Thursday, 4 February 2021

The Golden Family

 

by Stephanie Simpkin

Golden Dream (1oz. Vodka, ½ oz Liquore Galliano, serve in a rocks glass over ice)

 

 I stood on the bluff looking down at the raging sea far below. The huge waves crashing against the rocks. I am now sixty-three, a very successful man. The last time I stood here was the summer of 1945, the war just over. I was thirteen, shy, awkward, and naïve. My horrible puce pimpled face, would take on a strange beetroot hue if anyone spoke to me.

 

My friend Julian, the same age as me, was handsome confident clever and, clear skinned. The complete opposite to me. I couldn’t believe he was my best friend my only friend. I looked up to him, was dazzled by him, he was well liked and popular.

 

We were boarders at the same school in Suffolk. I was a scholarship boy, looked down upon for my working class background.

 

Julian, took me under his wing for which I would be eternally grateful. The school was like a prison, a very expensive prison. Cold baths, cold disgusting food, cold dorms, cold sadistic masters. The only light in my life beside Julian, was matron. A plump kindly woman who seemed to like me, or at least felt sorry for me, both my parents killed in an air raid. My only living relative an elderly uncle who was my guardian.

 

The summer holidays! Julian invited me up to his family home in Norfolk. A chauffeur driven Lagonda arrived at the school. I was excited, apprehensive, scared. His father was a Lord, they had a huge estate, thousands of acres complete with lakes, swimming pools, and tennis courts. 

 

We arrived at huge wrought iron gates, which miraculously swung open, a man doffed his cap, as we swished through. A mile long, tree-lined gravel drive, and then I saw it. The most splendid house I had ever seen. Branston Hall!

 

The car stopped, six staff were lined up outside. Julian bounded out of the car to be embraced by all the servants, and then, the most beatiful girl I had ever seen. Long blonde hair, a rosebud mouth, a sprinkling of freckles, bright cornflower blue eyes.

 

She smiled at me, I was mesmerised, struck dumb, I felt my face flush. I just nodded like an imbecile. This is my sister Emily, said Julian proudly. We were quickly joined by a very handsome couple, his parents, Lord and Lady Hinchcliff. I thought them a golden family.

 

The best six weeks of my life! We swam, played tennis, croquet, I learnt to ride, we fished,  had a wonderful time. The food was amazing; rationing was in, but the estate had plenty. Eggs, butter cheese, bacon, game that we shot. Fresh vegetables fruit. I felt this must be heaven, and how lucky the family were.

 

Emily, who was fourteen, often joined us in our pursuits.  I loved her. She barely noticed me. One day she told me that her older brother had been killed in the war at just eighteen, an older sister had died of whooping cough. That meant Julian was the heir to all of this splendour, that had been in the family for generations.

 

I was slightly envious of him, I craved a family, I tried not think of my loss. I viewed him as the brother I never had.

 

Julian told me he had a thing, with one of the village girls, he would disappear for hours at a time. I didn’t care. I had Emily’s company to myself.

 

The long summer days went on, I had found paradise.

 

A few days before we were due back at school, something happened that would change  all our lives for ever. 

 

I came down to breakfast, to hear shouting.  Julian ran out of the room crying.  I tried speaking to him. He brushed me aside and fled out of the house.

 

Lady Hinchcliff, sobbing,  strode out, quickly followed by Lord Hinchcliff ashen-faced and angry. I went in, Emily was sitting at the table weeping softly. What has happened? I asked, I sat down, eventually she stopped weeping.

 

Julian had been accused of getting one of the village girls pregnant, which he denied. He was being sent abroad in disgrace, to finish his schooling. He had bought shame on the family’s good name.

 

The car collected me to take me to the station. I was given money for my train fare and quickly said my goodbyes. Julian’s father couldn’t meet my gaze, and his mother smiled weakly, Emily said, she was so very sorry.

 

            I took the blame! They all allowed me to, me who had never kissed a girl, but Julian was my friend, my best friend.

 

I arrived back at school. Matron was there to meet me. She took me in her arms, her ample bosoms smothering me. She sat me down in the warm kitchen and made me hot chocolate.      

 

Matron explained to me, I was being expelled for tainting the good name of the school. She asked me if I understood, had anything to say? No! I said. Very well! She stood up, I’ve a good mind, to telephone Julian’s family.

 

No! You can’t! Please. He is my best friend!

 

Some friend, she said. Just because he he's rich, ‘The Right Honourable’ hmm!  He should be made to accept responsibility.   

 

I am sorry, gather your possessions,. The headmaster will drive you to the station. I know, you have done nothing wrong, sometimes life’s not fair! Goodbye and good luck!

 

I was sent to a ghastly  school, worst then the last one. No Julian, no matron! I was bullied mercilessly, thrashing a weekly occurrence. They were all beastly to me. The food! I doubted pigs would have eaten this disgusting swill. The prefects would run the huge baths the night before. In winter, the first one in, would have to break the ice. Usually me, never a kind word, no displays of emotion, I began to envy Oliver Twist. I was lonely, friendless and wretched. I maintained my very stiff upper lip, kept my head down and studied avidly. 

 

I did rather well in my exams and went up to Oxford where I gained a first. My skin now smooth, the ladies told me I was quite good looking. There were quite a few!           .

 

By now I had a very successful business which had recently gone public. I had received a Knighthood for my outstanding contributions to industry. I had made a fortune and become a very wealthy man.

 

One day out of the blue, a letter arrived from Julian, who had become an MP for Norfolk South; I sat down to read the letter.

      

‘Dear Robert, these past few years have been very difficult for me. Both my parents are dead. I blame myself.  The scandal and disgrace killed them. I am awaiting trial for fraud, my wife has left me, my friends have vanished. I hope this letter finds you well, my sister Emily sends her best. I am so very sorry our friendship ended as it did, I can only hope you will forgive me.

Best wishes Julian.’

 

I crumpled the letter into a ball, I felt denigrated, vilified and furious! All these years I had suppressed my memories to survive. And now, fifty years later I felt free.

 

I bore no ill will towards him now; because of him I had become successful. I had never married, never let anyone close to me again. Everyone I had ever loved taken from me. Trust issues, they would say nowadays.

 

Julian was now serving a ten year sentence in Pentonville, for fraud bribery and corruption, and lying under oath.  He was a peer of the realm and as such, should have known better. His reputation in tatters, his life ruined.

 

I found out from Emily that the village girl’s family, had been paid off and  Julian’s son   adopted.  So very sad.

 

I realised at that moment, six weeks out of a lifetime is a mere moment in time! We had just been children ourselves.

 

So much for the golden family!

 

I turned from the bluff, and drove the few miles to Branston Hall. The same huge gates, (electric now) the same mile long drive. I almost expected to see Lord and Lady Hinchcliff, Julian, and Emily standing there.

 

But now, the staff greeted me, the new owner.

 

 

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