This is the penultimate collaborative effort from myself and Eden Baylee. There are still a couple of solos to come as well as the joint swan song in the series we’ve c alled…
Prompt: My grandfather lied to my grandmother. I guess it runs in the family.
TRUTH OR HEIR
People often wonder how I came to be the owner of such an obviously expensive property. I don’t mind their curiosity. They’re not intending to be rude. It’s just that I’m not someone you’d identify as a ‘lord of the manor’ type. I haven’t got a particularly well-paid job and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m not particularly gifted at any sort of activity – leisure or otherwise. My wife Jean and I are basically an average couple that attracts little attention. And yet we’ve got this gorgeous place with big gardens, no mortgage draining our resources, and more rooms than we need, even with our four kids. But we do tell lies. It started way back. My grandfather lied to my grandmother. I guess it runs in the family. Jack, our eldest, tells the kids at school that I was an admiral in the navy and retired with a huge pension because of my knighthood, and Janet told her nursery teacher that Jean worked at Buckingham Palace before having any children. All lies, of course, but no less credible than the actual events which led to my family buying and keeping it since very early in the twentieth century.
It started as a bet. I’m not a gambling man, but that day as I trimmed the hundreds of rose bushes, I wondered about my lot in life. At nineteen, Dewbourne House had hired me because dad and granddad had also worked here.
With three generations of gardeners, my trajectory wasn’t all that different from Lord Buffet’s, only he inherited the luxurious castle, and I inherited a job at his ancestral home.
I was happy for a decent paying job, or at least one that supported me enough to get married and have a couple of kids eventually. The thing was, after Jack was born and dad passed away suddenly the following spring, I began fearing the worst. My life was moving in one predictable direction, that of servitude. I wanted more for my kids, and unless I did something to change course, my eldest son would end up following in my footsteps.
But how could I break the cycle?
When Lord Buffet requested my presence to discuss his family’s cemetery orchards, I decided to make him a proposition. It was a risk, one that might have got me fired if I didn’t know he was a bit of a prankster.
He was also incredibly superstitious and a sucker for traditional folklore, which made conning him relatively easy. He’d known dad and granddad as a kid and they’d always done the usual head-nodding as they dispensed totally fictitious wisdoms about the properties of plants and their associations with witchcraft. Henbane, deadly nightshade, yew trees – they’d all been part of the stories I’d heard about him as a kid and we’d laughed at how he’d believed it all.
So, before we sat down together in the conservatory that long-ago day to plan the necessary changes, I made sure I did my research.
“Traditional Lincolnshire apple trees,” I said, “that’s what we need.”
“Why?” he asked, his eagerness showing he was already impressed.
I shrugged as if the answer were obvious.
“They’ve been guardians of graveyards since way back. Symbols of immortality. Gateway to the underworld.”
He leaned nearer, like a conspirator.
“They’re as good as Bible cedars, protect against plague, make the grave soil purer. Yew’s OK, but these…”
The more I added, the more enthusiastic he got. I judged my timing of the punchline with care.
“There’s only one problem,” I said.
“They’ve to be planted and looked after by the owner.”
Lord Buffet did that thing with his eyebrow, raised it slowly, just the left one.
I panicked. “What I mean is … your Lordship, your son would have to plant the trees and care for them, as I’m sure he’ll become this home’s rightful owner.”
A smile formed on the old man’s face, barely visible behind his thick white beard. “And who says my good-for-nothing son will inherit the estate?”
“My Lord?” A knot twisted in my stomach.
“You know my son cares no more for this house than he does for me. He visits only when he wants money. What makes you think he’ll tend to this place once I’m gone?”
“Surely, he would—”
“No, he’s an entitled man-child! He needs to learn some hard lessons, only …” He bowed his head.
“Yes, my Lord?”
“The time for me to teach him is long past. You’ve given me the perfect reason to write him out of my will.”
I dared not exhale until he said: “You and your family have served me well. I trust you’ll continue doing so in my next life.”
Lord Buffet was a man of his word, and that’s the whole truth.