The Last Homecoming

By Atonia Walpole

Chapter 1

 

Maxwell Bateman tried the door and found it locked. He tipped a pot, finding the old key, somewhat rusty now, but it opened the door. The familiar smell of the house enveloped him. Beeswax and lemon oil.

 

 

 

“Hello?” he called but silence answered him.

 

He’d come up early, the night before the funeral was to take place. As far as he knew, his siblings would be arriving tomorrow. He’d bypassed the funeral parlor, not wanting to see his deceased father wasted away. In fact, he’d purposely not seen him for about three years. Should he be ashamed of himself? He wondered sometimes but he felt no shame. He wanted to remember his father as the witty, urbane, intellectual, robust man he’d been. A man who liked to play chess and win and who could quote the classics in an elegant voice. A man who liked his comforts. Not the man who’d been reduced to a driveling husk who no longer knew what day it was.

 

He barely got past the library when the front door opened again.

 

“Hello, hello there?”

 

 

“I’m here…good God is it…Holtz?”

 

“Young Max, how good it is to see you, but such a sorry occasion. I saw the car go by. We didn’t expect anyone today.”

 

“I decided to come up early. How’s the, uh, family?” He couldn’t remember his wife’s name…slipped his mind.

 

“Miriam and I are doing well and Fancy’s here. Nice she could be here for the family.”

 

Fancy he remembered as a pigtailed, somewhat stout young lady who hung about with Mags and sometimes with Kenny. “Your granddaughter, yes.”

 

“We’ve not cleaned out the cupboards or the fridge yet. There might be something to tide you over till the morrow.”

 

“I’ll be fine, Holtz.”

 

“I’ll  leave you to it then, lad. Till tomorrow.”

 

Max followed him to the door and locked it after he’d cleared the front.

 

 

He made his way to the billiard room and opened a bottle of whiskey. He sighed, looking at the table. Someone had covered it with a rug. From there he carried his drink through the dining room, into the living room and back out into the hall. The stairs rose in an impressive curve of carved oak. He went up the stairs and there was the ballroom or music room as it had been used. He frowned, had there been balls? Possibly.

 

Wings of bedrooms, more stairs. “It’s all too bloody much.” He went in and sat down at the piano. Music sheets were curling with age. He played a little then stopped, reaching for his drink. This was home, where he’d been born and spent his first nine years. After that it was where he went on school holiday or if he was lucky, he went skiing with his friends' families. It was a baronial estate passed down in the family. It was full of old portraits, suits of armor, weaponry from a bygone era, dungeons beneath the ground and towers towering above where bowmen were on the lookout for enemies. A great place for a boy with an imagination. But he was no longer a boy and what imagination he possessed had been drummed out of him by the day to day realities of life. One went to work, one worked, one stopped for a few drinks, one ate, and one went back to one’s flat and slept. Tomorrow the same old same old. Except this week, this week and next and the next, he was on holiday. What a time for the old fellow to kick it in. He’d cancelled his flight and sent his regrets to a few friends on their way to Capri.

 

 

There was a black and white picture of his father. He picked it up and looked at it. This was the man he remembered as a boy. He’d been quite good looking and in his youth went on the stage, played at the Old Vic in London. He used to talk about the old days. He’d married twice and the second time late in his thirties. “Probably about the age I am now…maybe it’s not to late after all.” He placed the frame back on the table. His glass was empty.

 

 

 

I’m on the phone, Gabrielle.” Rachel Leonard stopped speaking and turned to her daughter. “Just hold on a minute.”

 

“You said hurry because we had a train to catch. I hurried.”

 

“I’ll only be a minute,” She tossed her hair and went back to her conversation.

 

 

Gabrielle humped her bag to the door of their house, careful not to touch the white walls with her backpack. Everything was white, walls, sofas, tables. The only color came from a few toss pillows on the sofas and some hand blown glass vases. Her room, however, was a different world. She’d painted it lime green with neon pink spots on the walls. Color surrounded her in her haven upstairs.

 

Rachel was still talking. “My father died and the funeral is tomorrow at 11:00. I can’t possibly be back by three.  It’s in Scotland. You’ll have to reschedule, in fact, cancel all my appointments for the rest of the week. I’m hoping this business with the house won’t take long….thank you, Lillian….yes, the trip is still on. I wouldn’t miss it. I  have to go.  We’re taking a night train up. Call me if…if you need to.”

 

 

 

“What trip?” Gabrielle asked.

 

“It’s a photoshoot in Paris.”

 

“Oh, when are we going?”

 

“You aren’t going. You have school. You’ll have to stay with your father.”

 

“Why can’t I stay with Pammy?”

 

Rachel was scanning the room to see if she’d left anything out of place. Her white bags were already by the door. “Make yourself useful and hail a cab.”

 

It wasn’t a good time for a funeral, if there ever was a good time. Rachel had too much to do right now to be taking a week off. She was the editor of a glossy bit of eye candy called La Pearle, a monthly magazine filled with glamour and how to get it. It was her life and she loved it. She love the pressure, the prestige, and the perks. She especially loved the clothes she got from the designers she featured in the pages of her magazine. She kept herself model thin and she was tall at 5’10" and didn’t look her age, which was 40 her last birthday.

 

She tried marriage twice but it didn’t fit in with her lifestyle. Gabrielle was the product of her second marriage. It lasted all of five years and it had been a struggle for her with a small daughter, but help was easy enough to find and she had the money to pay for it. Thank goodness Gabrielle was finally getting old enough to be sensible and of some  help. She was now nearly sixteen. Rachel went over and turned off the gas fire. Everything was perfect. She picked up her bags and joined her daughter down in the lobby of their building. Already the doorman was holding a cab for them.

 

“Off we go,” she said to her daughter.

 

 

 

 

“We should have already gone.  As soon as we got word, we should have gone, Rob.”

 

“What for? What do you think we’d do with the kids?”

 

“Take them with us, of course. They took father from the house.  It’s not like they’d be seeing a dead man. We should have gone.”

 

“We’re goin’ in the morning, Mags. That’s soon enough.”

 

“You don’t like Fenwall, never have liked Fenwall. I can’t help where I was born.”

 

 

 

“I can’t help where I was born either but I’ve worked and tried to rise above it.”

 

“Please, let’s don’t go into that again. We’ve got beyond that, Robbie.”

 

“Have we now? Here you are itching to get to Fenwall.  What do you think…think the old man left it to you? I’m not havin’ it. I’m not takin’ Lily and Mark to Fenwall.”

 

“It’s their grandfather’s funeral.  Of course they’ll go. Poor old Dad, died alone in that big house. I should have been there. I…I had to take Lily to her riding lesson. You know how that is, I…I didn’t know that missing one visit would… and then when I saw him all laid out…”

 

“Quit, Mags. Just quit with this. I know he was your father but he was old and sick. It was gonna happen.”

 

 

 

He was seated at the table, her husband, father of their two children. She rewiped the countertops again. She couldn’t bring herself to say what was on her mind about Fenwall. However, he knew. He knew what she was thinking. No way was it going to happen. They owned this little bungalow, three bedrooms a living room and a sitting out room for her and a dining room and this big kitchen. He’d laid the slate tile in the kitchen himself. He’d put a lot of work into it and made a nice home for them. It wouldn’t  fill the gate house at Fenwall but it was his…theirs.

 

Mags or Martha Mary Bateman Miller, was 28 and she and Robbie Miller had been married for ten years now. She’d known him since she was sixteen but it took her two years to become pregnant. Her father loved her but he didn’t love Robbie. Robbie was a nobody, a hands-on contractor who bought old falling down houses and fixed them up and sold them. He’d formed his own company in the time they’d been married and was making a good living for them. They’d weathered the hard times early on with Mark and then Lily coming soon after but it was all okay now. She never forgot her roots…Fenwall. Sometimes she drifted off from their bungalow and found herself there. She’d be sitting over a cup of tea and when she came to herself, the tea was cold. She called them her wanderings.

 

 

 

 

Kenny (Kenneth Batman) sat on his sofa thinking about his father. He was a late child in his father’s life. He’d never known the younger man that his older brother knew. He hardly knew his brother. When he was eight  years old, his mother committed suicide. She walked into the lake in the middle of winter. They found her 24 hours later, or so he’d been told. All he knew was she was gone. His life changed after that. He was barely nine years old when he was sent packing off to boarding school, his father’s school, his father’s before him and the same one Max had attended. It was expected of him. Chin up, stop sniveling, be a man…but he was a small boy. He came home for holidays. Sometimes Max was there, sometimes Rachel, but always Mags was there. Mags babied him and fussed over him and tried to be his mother, though she was only three years older.  She smothered him.  He hated her for it.

 

 

His father was never the same after his mother’s suicide. He couldn’t remember ever seeing him without a glass and a cigarette in his hand. He drank for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner and after dinner. If he talked at all it was about the years before any of them were born, back when he considered himself an actor…back when he met  his first wife. He told of their divorce and how he met their mother. She was a seamstress with the company and made their costumes. It was during a particular fitting that they got to know each other…rather well. Kenny hated it when he told that story.

 

He moved to Edinburgh when he got out of college and found work in a design studio. He repaired glass windows. He was good at it but his father never approved. “What kind of work is that for a man? Get a real job or come home.” He never went back home. It hadn’t been home since his mother went away.

 

 

Minna Seivers opened his door. “Hi, I didn’t know if you’d be gone or not.”

 

“Not till morning.”

 

“Are you…afraid of going home?”

 

“No.”

 

“How long has it been, Kenny?”

 

“Three years. I went back for his 70th birthday. Come with me.”

 

“I’d feel funny. I don’t know anybody.”

 

“You’ll never know them unless you come with me. I want you to.”

 

“How long do you think you’ll be there?”

 

“I don’t know. A few days maybe.”

 

“All right, I go with you.” She put her arm around his shoulders.

 

 

 

 

“He’s come home,” Mr. Holtz remarked. “Came early.”

 

“Who’s come?” “Miriam Holtz asked.

 

“Max, he was the first. Said he’d be all right there tonight.”

 

“He’s staying? Well, why didn’t we know? Him there in that house and all the servants dismissed. It’s not right, Oscar.”

 

Oscar shrugged. “There’s nowt for him to do. The solicitor has taken care of everything, funeral preparations and all. Not even a visit from the vicar to be had.”

 

“Mr. Bateman left explicit instructions…of course there was nowt to be done. With none of the family nearby it was probably the right way to go about it.”

 

“Mags is not so far.”

 

 

“I’m sorry but Mags couldn’t organize a trip to Arbroath. I know, I shouldn’t be saying such about the family.”
 

“Well, Mags spent a lot of her growing up time here within these walls. Where’s Fancy?”

 

“She’s  taken her little car  into town. I expect her back for tea. Speaking o’which, I’d better get at it.”

 

 

Fancy (Francine Holtz) stopped for a cup of tea. She’d bought shampoo and a few other things and it was good to get away from the gatehouse for awhile. She loved her grandparents dearly but it was a bad time with old Bateman’s death. She had to wonder now what would become of her grandparents. None of the heirs of the estate lived there. Would they sell it and if they did…what became of the gatehouse? Her grandparents had been with the Batemans forever.

 

She’d seen Mags a couple of days ago. She’d been over to the funeral home and stopped by the gatehouse to cry and lament. Mags had always been a little…off. She hoped this death didn’t push her farther over the edge. Poor thing. She checked her watch and downed the rest of her cup. Time to get back.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Max was up early and down in the kitchen, a place he hadn’t been since he was a young lad. It took some searching to find the makings for coffee and toast. The house was absolutely silent as if it were waiting. He took his cup upstairs and walked out onto the back balcony then down into the garden. It was misty, having rained earlier, and what he could see of the sky was gray. Perfect weather to send the old boy off. He tried walking out but the grass was wet and he was in his father’s slippers. Everything appeared tidy and clipped. Gardeners, he thought. Looking back at the huge old estate looming up, dark and somewhat threatening…he stared at it and for a moment thought about its history but then it degenerated to a young boy climbing about the turrets and battlements. That boy had been him defending the castle. He let out a breath.  No one to defend it now. It was bound to pass out of the family. He wanted to argue with himself over that point…but it was pointless. What would they do with this monstrosity? The taxes alone would break them. Rachel was right.  It had to go.

 

 

The moment he’d been notified of his father’s passing he’d called Rachel. She was in the city, though they rarely saw each other. Rachel was already exploring the possibilities and had come upon a solution for the estate. A hotel chain was interested. Yes, yes, that seemed best. It was still best but some internal lingering attachment still wanted voice.

 

“Good morning.”

 

He dropped his coffee mug. “You startled me.”

 

“Sorry. Max, isn’t it?”

 

“I think so… but you…?”

 

“Fancy Holtz.”

 

“You can’t be…you were and you were…” He made some motions with his hands.

 

Fancy smiled. “I was but I grew up when you weren’t looking.”

  

He would never have guessed. She certainly had grown up. Gone was the chubby little girl with braces on her teeth. He picked up the cup and suddenly became aware of his appearance. Pajama bottoms, a vest, and his father’s dressing gown, wet now around the hem. “Obviously I wasn’t expecting visitors.”

 

“I’m not really a visitor, Max. I thought I’d walk down to the cliffs and look at the sea.”

 

“It’s wet.”

 

“I’m dressed for it.” She looked down at her sturdy rubber boots. “What time will the others be here?”

 

“No idea. We aren’t coordinated.”

 

“Well…I’ll see you later at the funeral.”

 

“Yes, it was good to…yes.” He watched her walk away, long legs beneath her jacket, legs and a shapely bum.

 

 

Oscar Holtz was digging around in the wardrobe. “Ah, there it is.” He took the battered-looking hat, brushed it off and punched it back into shape. Standing before the mirror, he placed it on his head, adjusting it a little. “Right.” The sight of himself in his chauffeur's hat and jacket that no longer met over his girth, brought back memories. How many years? Sixty? He’d been a young man looking for work and found it here at Fenwall. He’d filled many positions over the years. Today, he would chauffer Miss Rachel from the train station in Dundee.

 

“You aren’t wearing that. Oscar, you look ridiculous. The coat no longer fits, dear.”

 

“You think I should leave it off?”

 

“Yes, yes, love, I do. Wear your tweed and the hat if you must.” Miriam turned away from him and started making up the bed, mitering the corners and smoothing it as she’d been taught as girl of fourteen.

 

At fourteen she went into service at Fenwall and at sixteen she’d met Oscar, who'd recently come into service. Servants weren’t supposed to marry but at twenty and twenty-one, they did, secretly in Perth.  Old Mr. Bateman, father to the one just passed, knew they had married. Not much went on that he didn’t ken to. He turned a blind eye until it was obvious she was pregnant. She’d been dismissed and gone home to her mother and father. It was only after Mr. Robert Bateman returned at his father’s death with a new wife that she came back to Fenwall. He was a different sort of man and could care less who married whom. She and Oscar were able to share quarters while her mother and father raised their son. They saw him on days off. He’d  allowed his daughter to come and stay with them, having divorced his wife and obtained custody of her at a young age. He was in the army and unable to care for her. Miriam and Oscar stepped in. He'd died in an accident 8 years ago.

 

 

Gabrielle craned her neck. “Is that Mr. Holtz?”

 

“I believe it is. I gave him the train’s arrival time.”

 

“Imagine him still driving at his age.” Gabrielle gathered her bulging backpack on her slim shoulder.

 

“Ah, Miss Rachel and Gabrielle, how good to see you. I’ll take your bags.” He opened the boot and stowed them away in the ancient car. “Did we have a good trip?”

 

“It was just long enough,” Rachel replied, stepping into the back seat of the car. It smelled musty with age but was immaculate. “Anyone else at the house yet?”

 

“Only Master Max.  Came in last evening.”

 

Rachel spent the rest of the trip to Fenwall on the phone but Gabrielle was taking it all in, in anticipation of the house itself. It was like a fairytale house. Her lips formed a smile when it came into view. “Awww,” she said aloud, slowly.

 

Oscar deposited them at the door with their luggage, took the car back to the garage and locked it up. It would be needed, no doubt, later but he always kept it under lock.

 

“I suppose we must carry  our own bags,” Rachel sighed and picked hers up. The door opened and Max stepped out.

 

“Well, I was beginning to wonder. Here, I’ll help you with that.” He took Rachel’s bags.

 

“I’m good,” Gabrielle smiled, holding onto her own.

 

“Have you heard from anyone at all?” Rachel asked once they were in the hall.

 

“Nothing at all from anyone. I suppose they are enroute. Where do you want these?”

 

“In my room, if you don’t mind. Gabrielle, you can take the green room.”

 

Gabrielle followed Max up the stairs. “I don’t know which is the green room.”

 

“Neither do I but we’ll find it. How was your trip?”

 

“It was fine, Uncle Max.” She liked her uncle but saw little of him.

 

With the green room located and Gabrielle left to her own devices, he tossed Rachel’s bags in her room and came back to the staircase. There were voices in the hall now, high pitched and female. He assumed it was Mags arrived. Half way down he caught site of them, Mags in head to toe black.  He wondered irreverently if there was a veil to be added.

 

“Max, oh, Max, isn’t it the most horrible thing!” She launched herself at  him.

 

“What, Mags, what is?”

 

“Why, Daddy’s passing.”

 

“I can’t imagine it’s as bad as all that. He was ready to go two years ago.” He detached her from his chest.

 

“How can you be so cold?” She swatted towards his shoulder and he dodged, glancing over at Rachel, who looked positively evil at the moment.

 

“Get a hold of yourself, Mags. It’s not like we just got the news.”

 

The door opened and there stood Rob Martin with his arms loaded with baggage. Behind him were two smaller versions of Rob and Mags.

 

“Hello, Rob.  Need a hand with that?”

 

“I got it.  Where does it go?”

 

“Mags, you’d better direct him,” Max said.

 

Up the stairs they went as a group.

 

“Oh, my GOD! I cannot possibly do this for more than a minute.” Rachel held her temples.

 

“Sure you can.  Is it too early for a drink?”

 

“Is the sun up?” Rachel looked up at him and raised a brow.

 

“In the billiard room. I found a stash.”

 

“This was Mumma’s room.” Mags lay a hand on the closed door. “And this was father’s room. They had separate but adjoining rooms. He loved her so much.”

 

Rob was trying to be patient with Mags. His arms were beginning to strain under the burden. “Where, Mags?”

 

“We could take my mother’s room.” A certain excitement shown in her eyes. “We could…I can’t bring myself to go into father’s room yet…yet.” Her voice trailed off.

 

“Mommy, I gotta go.” Lily was dancing from foot to foot.

 

“This way.” Mags moved away from the doors to her parents' rooms and led the way down the hall.

 

Gabrielle opened her door and looked out at the retreating Martins.

 

Kenny pulled up to the house, frowning because someone had left a vehicle square in front of the doorway. “This is it, Minna.”

 

“Kenny, I had no idea…when you said country house I was picturing something very different. It’s impressively huge.”

 

“And that’s just the outside. Somebody’s here so let’s get this over with.”

 

As he was walking to the door another car pulled through the gate and stopped. A driver jumped out and assisted the passenger out onto the gravel. The man stood up straight and donned his hat.

 

 

Kenny smiled and waited for him. “Uncle Mathis.”

 

“Hello, my boy,” They hugged. “And who is this young lady?”

 

“Minna Seivers, my friend.”

 

“I’m very happy to meet a friend of Kenny’s.”

 

“Sir, I’m glad to meet you, too.”

 

“Who else is here?”

 

“I don’t know, Uncle.  We just arrived.”

 

“Then let us go and see.” He placed an arm around both of them.

 

 

Mathis Bateman entered the house and stopped, taking in the huge scale of the place. He was the younger, by two years, brother of Robert Bateman. He lived in Edinburgh in a tall old townhouse from the last century. He was close to Kenny and helped to support him when things were tough and work was scarce. He also came around and admired his work on some of the old church windows. He was a widower of thirty years and childless. Over the years since his brother’s wife had killed herself, he’d despaired over the severe neglect and then overindulgence Robert had bestowed on his offspring. He thought it a blessing that Kenny had been sent away to school where at least some form of structure and discipline applied. Kenny was the youngest and the most affected by his mother’s suicide. He was also Mathis’ favorite out of the four nieces and nephews he had.

 

They were now all there, all assembled in the drawing room. Miriam Holtz had come down with the caterer’s vans and was now in the kitchen arranging a platter of oat cakes and making tea. Something for the family before the church. She asked Fancy if she would take a tray in.

 

 

 

Rob had found a chair where he could keep an eye on his children. He was out of the way and concerned with only what belonged to him. Mags didn’t when she was here. It was like she was a different person…not the Mags he knew and loved. Today she was trying to be lady of the manor. It didn’t sit well on her and he wished she’d stop.

 

“Well, there wasn’t a thing to do…for us, I mean,” Rachel was saying to her Uncle Mathis. “The solicitor has taken it all under his authority to direct the funeral, burial and I suppose he’ll be at the service.”

 

“I’m sure he will be and will accompany us back here. There is to be a reading of the will at 4:00 and then he’s back to Dundee.”

 

“I was actually relieved.” Her attention was caught by the girl with the tray.

 

Mags saw her too. “Fancy, oh, I’m so glad you’re here.”

 

“Gramma thought you all might line a cake and a cuppa before church.”

 

“That was thoughtful of her,” Rachel said. “I would never have guessed you were Fancy, Francine, I believe you are?”

 

“I’m Francine but I’m Fancy too,” she smiled and caught Max’s eye. She took him a cup of tea.

 

 

“I suppose I need this,” he remarked.

 

“I imagine you do,” she smiled up at him, sending a little quiver down his spine. She handed round the cups and went back for another pot of tea. Max bit his lip and then realized he was being spoken to.

 

“Ah, the financial world, well, it still turns,” he smiled quickly. “I’m more involved in stocks and bonds now.”

 

“Sounds suitably stuffy,” Uncle Mathis grinned. “You haven’t remarried?”

 

“No, no, once bitten…you know.”

 

“How often do you get out of London?” Uncle sipped his tea.

 

“Well, I was to be out these next three weeks, had the flight booked and everything. I’m on holiday and had intended to spend it with friends in Capri.”

 

“There will still be time to join your friends.”

 

“Yes, well, the cream’s off the top now. I’m not sure how this is all going to shake out…about the house, the estate.”

 

“You’ll find out soon enough. It’s a grand old house. I grew up here, lived here until I was twenty.”

 

“I lived at school, if the truth be told. I only came here when there was nowhere else to go and it was a holiday.”

 

“You’ve lost your Scottishness, Max. I can only detect a soft burr now and then. You sound like a Londoner.”

 

“I suppose I am…a Londoner.”

 

“You’re the eldest son of the eldest son…it goes back to the dawn of time here. Don’t forget where you come from, son.”

 

The eldest of the eldest…what did he mean by that? It was true enough but…

 

Oscar had moved all the vehicles out onto the road in a line. Miriam came into the room and got their attention.

 

“It’s time to go. Oscar will take the immediate family in the car and the rest can follow.

 

Rob looked at Gabrielle. “You can ride with us, girl.”

 

Her eyes widened. “All right…with the grandchildren.”

 

“Yeah, and their chauffer.”

 

“Uncle?” Kenny questioned.

 

“I’ll follow with Minna, if I may?”

 

Miriam and Fancy followed behind in Fancy’s little car. At the crossroads they were met with another string of cars, the staff that had been dismissed upon Mr. Bateman’s death. There were some neighbors, too, but most were already at the church.

 

 

Near the church they were escorted the rest of the way by kilt-wearing pipers. The mournful sounds of the pipes would echo through the church and into the churchyard where the old man would be laid to rest. Townspeople of Arbroath had gathered to watch the procession. Not all knew who was being buried but their hats were off and their heads bowed as the pipers passed ahead of the family car.

 

Mags was sobbing and had already gone through her hanky and was now on Max’s. Max watched Kenny, who appeared disaffected, but he knew better. For whatever memories he had of his father, he was being honored today. A chance meeting of their eyes said he was feeling it too. Rachel was cool, calm and collected as usual in her dark suit and white silk shirt. Mags too public display was getting on her nerves, though. Her body language gave her away. It occurred to Max that perhaps their father’s death was hitting Mags harder. After all, she’d never left home until she married and then hadn’t moved that far away. She’d been the one who visited. Even after he became unable to communicate, she still trotted over for her dutiful daughter weekly visit. She made sure he knew his grandchildren. Perhaps she’d been the better child after all.

 

They filed into the church, all eyes upon them and took their place on the front pew. Behind them Rob with the grandchildren. Uncle Mathis came and sat by Max on the front row. Farther behind them, the Holtz family and the old and trusted staff here to see the old man off. Somewhere back there was the solicitor, pleased that the old man’s wishes were being carried out to the letter. He’d chosen everything down to the flowers he wanted on his casket and no others in the church. A large spray of lilies for his dear departed Lillian.

 

When it was all over they trooped back to their vehicles, leaving the grave diggers to do their work and the pipers still piping him heavenward.

 

“That was very well done,” Rachel admitted. “No fuss, nothing maudlin at the graveside.”

 

“What he wanted, Rachel. I liked the touch of Shakespeare. I remember having to recite that passage up on the battlements. He’d caught me up there where I wasn’t supposed to be and made me recite before he allowed me to come down. Once on the ground I thought I was in for a hiding. Instead he clapped me on the back and said, ‘Well done, Max.’ I was hoarse for days.”

 

Rachel chuckled. “I remember you having to recite The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner while I played background music on the piano. He liked to be entertained. Evenings were…special.”

 

 

“It sounds like you two had a different father than I did. I remember hiding in the dungeon for hours. He was raving drunk and he frightened me.”

 

Max tilted his head. “How, Kenny?  What did he do?”

 

“He was shouting and…I realize now he was lost in a play. I don’t remember what it was. I was too young to know. I only know I was terrified of him and there was no one to go to. I was down there until the light burned out and I had to make my way  up to the kitchen in the dark. Mrs. Holtz was in the kitchen at that time and grabbed me by the ear and wanted to know what I was about. I couldn’t tell her. I was ashamed, ashamed of being such a baby and…ashamed of my father.”

 

“Where was I? I don’t remember that,” Mags asked. Her face was still blotched but she’d turned off the water works.

 

“I don’t know, probably in your room. That’s where you used to go after dinner.”

 

“You should have come to me, Kenny.”

 

The car turned at the crossroads. Kenny looked at her a moment and then looked away out of the window. “I didn’t like you, Mags.”

 

 

She was silenced, eyes wide.

 

“All right, let’s have no more of that,” Max said but he wondered why Kenny didn’t like his sister. This was the first he’d ever heard of such a thing.

 

The caterers had set up tables in the hall with little sandwiches, cakes and tarts, a great urn with tea and another with lemonade. Max took a look at the fare and headed for the billiard room.

 

“No, no, you cannot hide in here. We’re supposed to greet and receive sympathy.”

 

“I’ve had all the sympathy I can bear right now. What was that with Kenny and Mags?”

 

Rachel poured herself a drink. “I don’t know. I’m sorry to say my sister does not confide in me nor does my little brother. You and I were away all those years…and afterward, after…mother. We were what…20 and 22 when she died and neither of us at home. I was married and living in London.”

 

“I was still at Oxford. We came home for the funeral and stayed a few days and that was that. I remember Kenny being a skinny little boy with a mop of dark hair. Honestly, Rachel…he could have been anybody. That’s how well I knew him then and now. There’s something not right about that.”

 

“You’re right but I think it’s a little late, don’t you? I’m not sure I want to know about those years. Everyone was well enough at Christmas and summer holidays as far as I know. Mags was an awkward teen but she and Fancy were tight as I remember.”

 

“Maybe you’re right, we don’t need to know.” He glanced at his watch.

 

“Four o’clock, the witching hour today. What do you expect, Max?”

 

“I don’t expect anything, really. I don’t need anything…I do quite well for myself, as do you.”

 

 

“There’s Mags and Kenny, neither of them have much of anything. Mags couldn’t possibly with…Rob. I’m afraid I share father’s opinion of him.”

 

“I don’t. He’s provided for her and given her two children. So he’s not…oh, how shall I put this, I don’t want to sound a snob…”

 

“Not of our class. By all rights we’re titled.”

 

“Ha, not really. I suppose we should make an appearance.”

 

 

Mags was busy at the table with her children, filling pates for them and pouring lemonade. “Be careful now and don’t spill…Mrs. Holtz, might we have some more napkins, please.”

 

Rob was behind her, holding a plate. “I’ll see to them.” He ushered the children out of the hall.

 

Miriam went to the kitchen drawer to see about napkins. “I don’t know why they are filling up at the guest’s table. The dining room is set for a family meal to be had later.”

 

Oscar looked up from his tea. “I suspect they’re hungry. It was a nice going away, don’t you think?”

 

“Nice enough. It suited for Mr. Bateman. There, that should be enough. Have you had something to eat?”

 

“Not yet. I will…later.”

 

Uncle Mathis was talking to the vicar and turned, seeing Max and Rachel joining the group. “Max, Rachel, come and have a word.”

 

They said all the right words about the service and accepted his sympathy. The vicar had something else on his mind.

 

“It’s about the home farm.”

 

“Farm?” Max raised a brow.

 

“Yes, the McLeods. They’ve expressed their fears to me that they might possibly be put out of house and home.”

 

 

“Er, I don’t think so,” Max frowned. What was grown on the farm? Ah, sheep. He remembered now and the red-headed man and his sons. “Amos McLeod, is it?”

 

“Ah, well, Mr. Amos died some years ago. It’s his son, now, Hamish, that keeps the farm going.”

 

“Hmm, well, I cannot say what’s to become of anything until we’ve heard the will. For all I know, we’ve all been disinherited,” he chuckled. His humor was lost on the vicar, who looked grave. 

 

Chapter 3

 

The solicitor had set up in the library and after the bequeaths had been made to certain long time servants, the room began to clear out.

 

The McLeods were given home for life on the home farm. The Holtz were also given home for life in the gate house where they’d lived for some thirty years. They were also given a sum of money for their long time service. Now it was down to the four children of Robert Bateman.

 

To my son, Kenneth Adam Bateman, I bequeath: A generous amount of money and a house in Edinburgh and its contents.

 

“I didn’t know he had a house in Edinburgh.” Kenny looked up at his siblings and at the solicitor.

 

Mags had shredded the paper napkin she had in her hand, clutching it until her knuckles looked white.

 

 

To my daughter, Martha Mary Bateman Miller, I bequeath: She got a sum of money…and the Hunting Lodge at Lock Aire.  She looked stunned.

 

To my daughter, Rachel Lynne Bateman Leonard:  She got his holdings in the Delta Theater, the Talisman Theater, an opera house in London and a generous sum of money. Her face went white.

 

To my son, Maxwell Robert Bateman:  He got the lot, Fenwall and all its holdings. He got the Barony of Perthshire. He was speechless for a moment. “There must be some mistake.”

 

“No mistakes, Mr. Bateman. The will was written shortly after his 70th birthday, before he had his first stroke. His mind was sound.”

 

“NO! NO!” Mags stood up, knocking her chair backwards to the floor. Kenny reached down and righted it. He looked up at her.

 

Rachel turned to Max, ignoring Mags’s outburst. “You got it all. You must be pleased.” She clearly was not.

 

It still hadn’t completely sunk in. Max covered his face.

 

“NO, he wouldn’t have…he wouldn’t…!” Mags sat down and covered her face. She was soon wracked with sobs.

 

The solicitor said he’d like to see Max in his office in Dundee as soon as it was convenient.

 

Kenny started to leave behind the solicitor and then he turned and went back to Mags. “I guess he thought you’d like looking out over the lake.”

 

“Oh, you are cruel. After all I did for him, all those years.”

 

“You did the one thing he couldn’t forgive you for and you know it. You drove her to it, Mags, you know you did.”

 

“I did not!” She stood up again. “I didn’t mean what I said.”

 

Rachel was interested but Max was still staggering under the burden he’d just received.

 

“What’s this about?” Rachel demanded to know.

 

“Let her tell you. Let her tell you about the night Mum died. I’m through. I’m out of here.”

 

Max was now aware and stood up and stopped Kenny. “You and I, we need to talk.”

 

“You’d better make it quick.”

 

“Not here…upstairs in the music room.”

 

 

Kenny walked to the windows and looked out over the back gardens. He heard the doors close behind Max.

 

“What is it I don’t know, Kenny?”

 

“The night Mum died, she and Mags had a row. It wasn’t the first one. Mags was…she was wild when she got mad. She said some horrible things to Mum. They were here in this room. Mum went through that door over there and into her bedroom. Mags beat on the door and it was father who opened it. He slapped her. She wished them both dead. She wished Mum was at the bottom of the lake so she’d never have to see her again. She broke a vase in here, the tall one that used to hold feathers.  After that she went to her room and slammed the door.  A portrait fell off the wall in the hallway. I was over there in the corner where I’d been playing a board game earlier with her. I went out in the hall. Mum’s door was open to the hall and I could hear her crying. She said she couldn’t take it anymore. Something had to be done about Mags. Father said there was nothing to be done. She was their daughter and he’d not have her put away. I went running to my room after that.

 

 

“ It was midday before we knew Mum was missing. Father knew early that morning. He had all the servants searching for her. He called in the police. They finally dragged the lake two days later and that’s when we knew where Mum went.”

 

“Father was devastated,” Max said.

 

“Yes, he was.  He went a little crazy, locked himself up in the library and drank up all the whiskey. Mr. Holtz had the doctor out. He was sober enough when you and Rachel got here. The doctor had to sedate Mags. Later on, after you and Rachel went back to your lives in London and Oxford, father finally had her evaluated. She’s on medication for life. He wouldn’t have her committed. She got better and then she tried to make it up to me. Always hugging me and telling me she’d be my mother now. She used to come into my bedroom at night and lay down with me. I told father and he said lock my door and so I did. I was eight years old and when my birthday came around and I turned nine, I was enrolled in school and sent away. Mags…Mags stayed here. He couldn’t stand the sight of her. I figured that out a few years later.”

 

“Bloody hell, Kenny. Why was I never told…why didn’t you contact me?”

 

“Truth…I didn’t know you, Max.”

 

“Good lord!” Max ran a hand over his head. “He never drew another sober breath, did he?”

 

“I don’t think so. He killed his liver. Uncle Mathis told me that. Then he had the stroke and the next one and he was left as he was until he died. I didn’t come back here after his big birthday bash. I didn’t want to see him.”

 

“Neither did I but perhaps not for the same reasons. I didn’t want to remember him that way. I’m sorry, Kenny, so very sorry you’ve had to live with this. Have you never told anyone?”

 

“Never.”

 

“Who else…does anyone else know?”

 

“Mr. and Mrs. Holtz know. There were servants in the house. I guess word got around.”

 

A knock on the door and it was opened a crack. “Excuse me, but the doctor is here. I don’t know what to do with him.” It was Minna.

 

“Come in, Minna.” Kenny held out a hand to her.

 

Max took a breath. “I’ll see to him.” He turned again and placed a hand on Kenny’s shoulder. “You and I…we’re brothers. It’s taken a long time, Kenny. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.”

 

“It’s all right. We came out all right in the end, didn’t we?”

 

Max went downstairs and found out Rachel had called him for Mags. He followed the doctor upstairs to Mags' bedroom. Rob was there arguing with Rachel and Mags was staring into space, silent now.

 

“Clear out, both of you!” Max ordered then stopped Rachel. “What happened?”

 

“She flipped out, Max. Went crazy, what can I say?”

 

Rob wasn’t going anywhere. He was holding her hand now and trying to sooth her.

 

The doctor checked her out and then went to find Rachel and Max. Max filled him in on what had transpired in the library. “It obviously brought back some bad memories. Her husband can tell you what medication she’s on.”

 

Gabrielle had the two children in her room. Fancy had been in and out. Mark wanted to know what was wrong with his mother. He’d heard her screaming earlier.

 

“She’s upset about her father, Mark. She’ll be fine shortly. The doctor has come now. Your dad’s with her.” Fancy looked over his head at Gabrielle. “Can you manage for a bit?”

 

“Sure, we found some games to play and a deck of cards.”

 

“Good girl.” Fancy closed the door behind her and came upon Max and Rachel. “Your daughter has the two young ones under control.”

 

“I’m glad somebody’s under control.” She stalked off down the hall.

 

Fancy looked up at Max. “Are you all right, Max?”

 

“I’m not sure. Too much has happened in too short a time.”

 

“Come with me.” She led him downstairs and into the billiard room. There she poured him a drink.

 

“First tea and now whiskey?” He took the drink. “Do you know about Mags and my mother?”

 

 

“Yes, I know.”

 

“How is it that everybody knew but me?”

 

“You were away and it wasn’t something anybody wanted to talk about. It was all hushed up. Your uncle is still here in the drawing room.”

 

“I should talk with him. Thanks for the drink…and…why didn’t I know about you?”

 

She smiled and took his glass from him.

 

 

“It’s a sad day, Max. Old wounds have been opened up…bloody wounds.”

 

“You knew?”

 

“Robert told me. It’s very difficult to have a child like Mags. He didn’t know, Max, how disturbed she was. I had a talk with him after Lillian’s funeral, when he was mostly sober. I suppose one doesn’t know until you live with it, how damaging it can be. Lillian wasn’t strong enough to deal with it and Robert hadn’t a clue, thought it was a stage she was going through.”

 

Rob came down the stairs and into the room. “It’s this house, this family, that makes her like that. She’s not like this at home. She…she’s all right at home.”

 

“What did the doctor say?” Max asked.

 

 

 

“Wants to put her in the hospital and evaluate her. I said all she needs is to go home. And as far as that hunting lodge goes, you can stick it up yer arse.”

 

“I didn’t give it to her. As far as I’m concerned you can take the damned thing and sell it. It was a cruel thing for father to do. He must have known how it would affect her.”

 

“I don’t know what to do.  There’s the kids. They don’t know what’s going on.”

 

“They don’t need to know. I do agree with you about Fenwall, Rob. It brings back too many memories for her. But don’t hate the family for it.”

 

Uncle Mathis looked at his watch. “It’s late. I should be going home.”

 

“It is late, after six.  Why don’t you stay the night?”

 

“Max, I’m not sure I want to. What are you going to do with Fenwall?”

 

“I haven’t had time to think about it yet. It never occurred to me that father would drop this albatross around my neck.”

 

“Your father said almost the same words when it fell around his. I do think I’ll go along…if I can find my driver.”

 

“I’ll look for him.” Rob got up, feeling for his cigarettes, and headed for the front door.

 

“He’s not a bad sort, Max.”

 

“Who, Rob? I never thought he was.”

 

“Your father did but then he never wanted Mags to marry. Come and see me sometime.”

 

“I’ll try and do that. I understand you’re close with Kenny.”

 

“He’s a fine lad and I think he’ll be pleased with his inheritance once he sees it.”

 

“What house is it, Uncle Mathis? I never knew he had a house in Edinburgh.”

 

“It was one he bought for his first wife. She lived there for about a year then met a Canadian and moved across the sea. It’s been empty all these years but kept up. Ah, there’s Henry. Good night Max.  Tell the others I felt the need to go home.”

 

“Sorry about…good night, Uncle Mathis.”

 

Max went over and picked up a photo of his father.

 

 

“You were a damn good actor.  You should have stayed on the stage.” He placed it back on the shelf. He never knew the pain his father had gone through but why, why after all those years and Mags doing as well as she ever had, did he do such a thing? He wanted to hurt her? He couldn’t fathom it. His father had never been a vindictive man, at least as well as he’d known him.

 

He looked around the drawing room and walked back to the hall.  Across was another useless room and then on to the dining room where the table had been set for a meal that none of them wanted now.

 

 

He reached for the decanter and poured out a glass of wine.

 

Down in the kitchen Miriam and Oscar were having a drink at the work table. “It’s all surfaced again and poor Mags,” Miriam lamented.

 

“I was there when they pulled her from Lock Aire. As cold as it was and she was wearing only her nightdress…and Mr. Bateman wouldn’t release her.  He held her, sobbing and cursing. It was me and MacTavish that finally got him to his feet. He was a man crazed with grief.”

 

“Mags went wild. The doctor didn’t know what else to do but sedate her. She missed the funeral, slept through it all. It wasn’t her fault.  It was the demons in her head that she couldn’t control. I fear they’ve come to life again.”

 

 

 

“Modern medicine and a good hospital will put her right again, Miri. You know, I’m tired. What else is to do here tonight?”

 

“I stuck the meal in the fridge. There’s only to start the dishwashers. Fancy can do that.” She reached across the table and touched his hand. “It’s been a long day.  Let’s go home.”

 

 

 

“It’s been so horrible for you,” Minna said. “How did you keep it all in for so long?”

 

“There was nowhere for it to go. I’m glad I talked to Max. I feel better about it all now.”

 

“Truly?”

 

Kenny smiled and hugged her close. “Don’t cry over me. I’m okay, really I am. I think in a way I was still looking at my life through a little boy’s eyes. You know, all the hurt and disappointment and misunderstanding. I see it all a bit clearer now. Dad wasn’t a monster.  He was just a man who’d been dealt a heavy blow. He never really recovered from it. I hope he’s at peace now with Mum.”

 

“I like your Uncle Mathis.”

 

“Me, too.  He’s a rock. He married one woman and when she died he never looked for another. I’m kinda like that…a one woman man.” He kissed her. “I’m glad you came with me.”

 

“Where you go, I go…that is unless you’d rather I not.”

 

“When we get back to Edinburgh, we have a house to find and explore. I said we.”

 

“I heard that. We.” This quiet, good-looking man had turned into someone she cared deeply for. He needed loving and she was ready.  It was time to commit.

 

 

Max wandered through the downstairs rooms with his glass, touching things, picking up photos. It was his, everything.

 

“You should make a tidy sum from all this.”

 

She’d startled him. “Rachel, you’re like a cat. What…sum? Do you think I’m going to sell out?”

 

“You were ready enough earlier today. You were ready before we left London. Remember…or has the shock of ownership rattled your senses?”

 

“It never occurred to me that father would leave this to me, all of it. I rather thought it would be jointly owned by all of us. It was a shock.”

 

Fancy stopped outside of the room and backed up, but she didn’t leave. She was quietly listening.

 

“You don’t care about this place any more than I do. It was an old man’s folly to keep holding on to it.”

 

“You thought it would go to you, didn’t you, Rachel?”

 

“I’m the eldest. Unlike English baronies, a woman can inherit a Scottish barony.”

 

“But not this one. It’s never gone to a woman, not in six hundred years, Rachel. Uncle Mathis reminded me of that. I’m sorry if you’re disappointed. I suppose it would have made a nice hotel…bit out of the way.”

 

“Would have made…so, you’re going to keep it as is? Ha, it’ll fall down around your ears. You cannot possibly keep this place up. What will you do for money? Father dispensed his fortune before he handed this white elephant to you.”

 

“I honestly do not know anything yet. How is Mags?”

 

“Quiet…catatonic. Dr. Rupert has called an ambulance. He says tomorrow he’ll contact her doctor. Do you think she’s acting? I do. She’d tucked that bit of dirty laundry away and thought no one would ever see it again. I think she tried to convince herself that it never happened. She’s obviously been fawning over father for years. He was too much of a gentleman to tell her to bugger off. Think of him, unable to speak, unable to move, a prisoner in his own body and having to put up with her weekly visits. God knows what she must have prattled on about.”

 

“It may have been a kind of torture for him but you forget one thing. He made his will before his strokes. Why do you think he gave her the lodge on the lake?”

 

 

“Karma. In his own way he got back at her for what she’d caused. Everyone says, poor Mags, it’s not her fault. Well, I ask you, who else is to blame? She learned at an early age the only way to get her way was to throw a fit. One might be amused at a 3 year old in the midst of a tantrum. An eleven year old…well, it isn’t pretty.”

 

“She’s ill, Rachel. She’s been diagnosed. She wasn’t ever seen to until after mother died. By all accounts she righted herself with proper medications. She was well enough to marry and have two children. Rob says she’s not like this at home, thinks she’s fine at home.”

 

“Well, for all love, let’s send her home then.”

 

“You really don’t care, do you, what happens to Mags?”

 

“Mags is not part of my life. I’m sorry for her children and for that husband of hers but as for me personally, I’ve got along without her. She…disrupts.”

 

“A blot on your otherwise perfect world, perfect life?”

 

“Don’t be hard, Max. It doesn’t suit you. I rather like you.”

 

“I rather like you, too. Like you, I’ve formed my life alone, without anyone else to worry about, or think about…though you do have Gabrielle, a very nice girl. I should compliment you there. I didn’t think I need think about family. I knew they were out there…somewhere. Kind of like one’s childhood toys stored away in the attic. I’d outgrown family. Father was aging but he was still father right up to his 70th. When he wasn’t father anymore…I didn’t want to see him. I came when he went into hospital and then I didn’t come again. I think he would have understood, perhaps he did.”

 

“What are you discovering…guilt?”

 

“No, not guilt but a sense of responsibility. Look at Kenny. I was never there for him while he carried around his burden.”

 

“I refuse to join you in this quest for family recognition. Gabrielle and I will be leaving tomorrow. I’ve nothing here to do and plenty I should be doing in London.”

 

“I’ll be staying…at least for awhile.”

 

Rachel kissed his cheek. “You know how to contact me if you need to. Somehow, I think you’ll do fine without my input.” Rachel ran up the stairs and went to her room. She was half unpacked but now she began packing her bags again. Down the hall she found Gabrielle with the two Miller children.

 

“Gabrielle, we’ll be leaving early in the morning. Be sure you’re ready.”

 

 

“But, Mum.” She got off her bed and went to the door. “What about them? Their father has to work tomorrow and Auntie Mags is…”

 

“That’s not our concern. Their father will just have to miss a work day. Sorry but they are not our responsibility.”

 

“Mum, we’ve already arranged the rest of the week off from school. Could I stay and come down on the weekend?”

 

“Absolutely not. Do you think I’d let you take a train from Dundee to London by yourself? Be ready by seven.” Rachel closed the door and shook her head. Not Gabrielle, too? The sooner they got away the better.

 

Rob came running up the stairs and down to their room. The doctor was getting Mags ready, helping her with her shoes.

 

 

 

“The ambulance you called is coming up the drive. I tell you what, you get in that ambo and ride on back to where you came from. Mags…Mags and me are goin’ home. She’ll be all right once she’s away from this house. I know…I know what I’m talking about.”

 

“Young man, your wife needs care and attention.”

 

“That’s what she gets at home…now…you get away from her…go on, now.”

 

The doctor looked at the menacing man who looked all shoulders and balled fists. He went to find Max or Rachel.

 

Max was at the front door, staring at the ambulance driver.

 

“Mr. Bateman that man…Mr. Miller will not allow me to have his wife transported to hospital.”

 

“Is she unconscious?”

 

“No, not at all. I’ve given her something to calm her down but she’s awake.”

 

“Then why do we need an ambulance?”

 

“For her own safety.”

 

“Is she…bleeding, broken…spewing forth? I think, Doctor, that you may have overstepped your bounds here. Her husband is perfectly capable of driving her to hospital if they think that is the best thing to do. I do appreciate your stepping in to help when it was needed. The crisis has passed. Please, tell these men it was a mistake.”

 

Rob was at the top of the stairs listening to Max. He didn’t know the man well but his opinion of him was changing. He wasn’t quite the pompous ass he thought.  Kenny came out of the music room and was also looking over the banister into the hall. “Rob, are you going home tonight?”

 

“As soon as I can get the car around and get loaded up, damn right.”

 

“I’ll help.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

 

A little while later Mags came down the stairs, holding on to her children’s hands. The family were in the drawing room, Rachel having been rousted out of her room by the noise in the hall.

 

“Say good bye to your Uncle Max, Uncle Kenny and Aunt Rachel.” She stood quietly while they made their rounds. Rob was at the door and motioned for them to come on. “Kids, in the car.”

 

Mags sat down, still feeling a little wobbly. “I know you all think I’m crazy. Everybody thinks I’m crazy. I’m not crazy. Sometimes I…I wander away but I always come back. I’m sorry for ruining the dinner…and father’s funeral. I did love him dearly even though he never loved me. I’m going home now. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime.” She looked up. Rob was standing behind her seat. She reached for his hand.

 

“Mags,” Max stepped forward, “I’d like to come and see you sometime…see where you live and…get acquainted with my niece and nephew.”

 

“Oh, Max, that would be lovely, wouldn’t it, Robbie?”

 

“Sure.” He glanced up at Max. “We’d better get on the road, Mags.”

 

She stood up and each of them hugged her, even Kenny, if a little stiffly. He still didn’t like her but she was his sister.

 

“Well, that’s that. Excitement over for the evening,” Rachel said.

 

“What was that about a meal?” Kenny asked. Minna squeezed his hand.

 

“The table is still set in the dining room.”

 

“Where’s the food?”

 

“Probably put away. Shall we troop down to the kitchen?” Max led the way.

 

Fancy had just started the dishwashers. “Oh, what’s this?”

 

“We’re hungry after all. Is there anything to eat?”

 

Fancy smiled and opened the fridge. “Cold or should I warm it up?”

 

“I can use the microwave,” Gabrielle volunteered.

 

They gathered around the work table in assorted chairs and had cold salmon with dill sauce, cold roast beef, microwaved roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts. An assortment of sweets were pulled out to have with coffee.

 

 

ON TO CHAPTER 4

 

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