Behind the sofa, that’s where they were. While the duo of hounds pulled at the toys alongside the unlit fire, the girls cuddled beside one another, perching themselves upon the dust which seemed to emanate from the floorboards.
“Found you!” Finally, after a good quarter hour, we were able to say it, yet the execution of the brilliant plan beforehand still manifested in everyone’s minds.
“How did you run downstairs without us seeing you?” Elly was the one to raise the question, yet the girls seemed quite confused by such an enquiry, and somehow managed to look like they were wrongly accused.
“…we didn’t.” Tia responded anxiously, as she and her doppelganger came out from behind the couch, their sleeves caked in filth.
“You said you saw them in the bedroom, though?” Elly turned, now beginning to interrogate her husband while the twins looked on in amazement.
“Well, I thought I did…” I returned. I was sure of it. There couldn’t have been any other explanation for it. Two sets of feet, in two sets of the same socks which Tia and Evie wore on theirs, at that very moment.
“We didn’t, Dad. Honest.” Evie backed up her twin with considerable worry present in her voice.
“Don’t worry.” I consoled, bending down to them and putting my arms around the two in comfort, “It’s probably just your old Dad getting a bit tired and feeling his age.”
I turned to the window, and upon seeing the sun in the process of dipping below the horizon, began to think of the next task ahead for the evening.
“Looks like it’s getting a bit dark.” I commented, causing everyone to turn and look also, “We’d better find some light before it gets too dark.”
“I read the letter.” Elly confirmed, still standing in the doorway, “It said that the power switch is in one of the barns.”
“Probably where we chopped the wood.” I looked to Scarlett, finishing Elly’s sentence in the process.
“Right.” Elly now buttressed her body up, an arm on end to the wooden frame, “If you find the power, me and the girls will wash up.”
“Okay.” I replied, quite halcyon that such an outcome had come about.
With a short peck on Elly’s cheek, and a quick wave to the other girls, I made for the front door, and once more the blustering wind met my face as I braved the cold again.
The interior of the barns – of which we had chopped the wood in the courtyard of – seemed to be in equal or more desuetude than that of the house. The beams – oak, I believe – were caving in under the immense pressure that the snow had created, still layering upon the gables.
They were, as one could tell by the composure, shelters constructed far beyond what was originally thought. Cart-sheds would put them around the seventeenth century – when wagons of such high-standing peoples were deemed precious enough to keep safe from the ever-changing climate – but many parts of the inside proved otherwise.
The moon, which was now at least high enough to cast its silvery light into the room, reflected off the snow and lit up almost the whole room, exposing the melting ice and cracking timbers.
These oak beams were in fact ribs from a small ship. Maybe a small sloop or trading boat, these once supported the underside of the vessel, but were now – like myself – showing how matured they truly were.
Even as I walked through the piles of benches, windows and other construction parts which may have been used a good century ago, the noise became somewhat eerie, even to a man of such ruthless combat.
Groaning, screaming out to the world, that they could no longer bear the weight which was bestowed upon them.
Upon the old wall in the second room, at the end of the left side, sat a large fuse box. Weathered and with an aged and tattered label reading Harrisons Electrical. …al Street, Richmond.
There was no doubt about it. This building was a victim of commercialization of the early nineteenth century.
There was a case of tungsten lamps labelled Edison and Swan Electric Light Company perched upon the table just under the fuse box. Each one was wrapped in tissue paper, and dust was in clumps, and dropped to the floor upon inspection of the individual lights.
Another identical container was full with individually wrapped fuses. Large metal cylinders, they were, each with bulky numbers painted upon them, making it quite simple to become a home-bred electrician.
As expected, a large red lever was on the right side of the box, in an upward position.
With an almighty force, I heaved open the corroded hinges, further screeching and squealing with the years of rust and water which infiltrated them.
There were subdivisions of fuses on the interior. Kitchen, Foyer, Parlor and the bedrooms were all marked in boxes, grouped together in black lined shapes, as well as more – of which made too many to list altogether.
All of these holders – two angled pieces of metal nipped together to hold the fuses – apart from three contained the correct fuses.
The trio of empty ones – namely Cellar, Parlor and Study – had instead their relative device value, and by picking a few of the allocated numbered cylinders, I was able to repair the fuse box, with quite brilliant results.
Despite a desultory effort of movement from the large red lever, it finally locked itself in a downward position, causing the little tungsten lamp, dangling above my head by its bare cord, to fizzle and crackle into a brilliant yellow light after a short moment.
I gazed in awe at the antiquary which it shone upon within the room. All around me there were boxes of books, newspapers and everything else, all piling over the brim and spewing across the old workdesks which they were perched on.
And amongst the dust, furniture and boxes, something seemed to catch my eye.
I have no idea why, but for some reason, a certain Punch, or the London Charivari Annual lay alone on the worktable behind me, beside the doorway.
My father had, as a fact, been a very keen reader of the popular satirical magazine, and would commonly buy the year-ending volumes – of which this particular hardback was.
1915, was the year. Germany launched the first known use of poison gas on both fronts in the war, the Lusitania was sunk by German submarines, and such cultural works as Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, D.H Lawrence’s The Rainbow made their first appearances, and not to mention Tarzan returned in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s sequel.
And it was quite an outstanding achievement that all these happenings, no matter where or when in the year these events took place, were precisely recorded in the scarlet encyclopedia.
Opening the book to the mid three-hundreds, my eyes befell a duo of feminine figures standing in the center: Britannia and America.
May 12th 1915, and the two girls stood on the shores, America being the smaller, hunched figure, drooping her head and clasping her hands in sorrow, but also in silence.
Britannia, her dearest sister, wearing her plumed helmet and with the definitive and characteristic three-pronged trident in her hand, had her hand placed upon the shoulder, and gazed triumphantly into the distance.
In a soft mental murmur, I read out the words printed in the caption below:
Britannia to America
On the Sinking of the Lusitania.
In silence you have looked on felon blows,
On butcher’s work of which waste lands reek;
Now, in God’s name, from Whom your greatness flows,
Sister, will you not speak?
It was a truly amazing piece, a remarkable page to have turned to, but as I began to indulge myself in a read – maybe a little too much – something else took my attention in my peripheral range.
This, whatever it was, was not situated in the same room as I, for it had swooped past the window to my left with such terrifying speed, it was the sound which caught me more that the sight.
The flapping of fabric, that of some sort of flag or coat, and the quick blackout of the light splayed across the snow outside meant that this was something to investigate.
I straightened my posture back up to its original position, and closed the book firmly, before I strode into the next room to exit from – and maybe inspect the strange occurrence further.
Unfortunately, light had not entered the room, probably due to a faulty bulb hanging from its bare thread over my head, and so it was a death-wish trying to meander myself through the boxes or screws and nails, shelves of old toys and books, trying to find the door out of it.
My eyes took a short while to adjust to the almost pitch-black darkness which loomed around, and within no time at all, a small wooden doorknob became visible in the corner I was searching in.
The night outside yawned a foul wind as I crunched my left shoe out into the freshly laden snow.
By now, the flurries had once again increased to a heavy blizzard, and I felt myself buttressing against the door as I closed it in order to prevent myself from being blown over.
After pulling it to, I slid the small latch back across, and before setting off to the house, edged across the wall and around the building, so as to check for the source of the enigmatic sound.
But there was nothing to be seen. The moonlight peered past the trees and reflected beautifully off the snow, which allowed me to see there was an absence of…well…anything.
No flag, coat, nor any signs that anything, nor anyone could have been there moments earlier, a thought which casted doubts on my sanity once more.
Many a night had been spent hiding in churches, houses and other buildings during my time in Holland, listening for anything which would alert us to a German patrol.
Footsteps, the cocking of a rifle, or even the stub of a cigarette butt were easily recognizable when one was silent, and maybe, just maybe, these memories had bore an impression on my mind.
Maybe it was a pigeon fluttering in the trees, or the branch, from one of the many pines and firs which covered the estate, lowering under the weight of the snow which cascaded to the ground shortly afterwards.
Rather than dwelling on it, I decided it was creation of the mind’s eye, and with the mystery solved to my satisfaction, walked back towards the house, pulling my jacket tightly around my chest, to avoid the penetrating coldness of the snow.