The Heir

Edward was the sole remaining heir of the Barrister Greene line. He was well-bred, good-tempered, educated and had perfectly good manners but was unlucky in love and never married. The years glided swiftly by and made him oblivious. One day, young Edward found himself an old bachelor. By the morning our story found him asleep in his chair, Mr Greene could barely remember the time when the fact that he had no family of his own had mattered to him. The only thing that could eventually lead him to regret his solitude was the absence of heirs to his estate. But Mr Greene was more absorbed in reading thick books and in working on the nature and properties of the yellow rose and the Scottish slate-blue thistle. These two plants were his two most recent obsessions and instead of indulging in gloomy thoughts about successions, heirs, testaments and deaths, Mr Greene preferred tending to the soil of his garden.

Edward was fond of solitude and retirement from his early childhood. He was educated to become the proud heir of a long line of dignitaries but his studies led him to a tremendous deception. He realised that human nature was by definition unstable, capricious and selfish, that benevolence and tolerance were less easy to find than ignorance and wrath, that good men and bad men alike made fickle friends, and that the ideal world he had imagined for himself was impracticable in the presence of large numbers of people. He, therefore, fled the world and spent most of his time around his house. During his long and lonesome life, Mr Greene amassed a certain knowledge of the world he had fled by studying it from a comfortable distance. Even though he was much disillusioned himself, he was nevertheless determined to use his knowledge and superior understanding for the betterment of his fellow men.

Mr Greene had been looking for an occasion to put this intention into practice for several months when, one morning, the gruesome stain of blood appeared on his writing desk. Naturally, Mr Greene experienced a fit of freezing panic at first. When he saw the blood on his fingers, he was alarmed, frightened, terrified, disgusted. He ran after Mrs Inglis to reassure her but also to set his own mind at rest. After he turned his back on the stain, Mr Greene found out that the reflexes of an old scholar gradually took over his panic. The feeling of immediate stiffening horror he had experienced in his study left him and he was able to persuade Mrs Inglis to follow him back to the house. To his great relief, she did follow him to his study and stood behind him while he reflected on his next move.

Surmounting his disgust, Mr Greene bent to examine the blood. It had started to darken and was thickening into large irregular clots. An asymmetrical dark burgundy red rim had formed all around it and Mr Greene realised that if he left the stain there, it would damage the polish of the writing desk. He felt the chilly fit of panic return in full force. Suddenly, Mrs Inglis hurried back downstairs and came back, carrying an iron bucket in one hand and a wet cloth in the other.

“We must clean it up, Mr. Greene, or it will ruin your father’s desk. Here, let me wipe it up.” Mr Green observed that Mrs Inglis had washed her face. Her hiccup had stopped and she appeared more determined than ever to wash, scrub and clean. Mr. Greene smiled a kind thank you and rapidly rummaged through the upper left drawer of the desk for the yellow silk polishing cloth. In less than a minute or two, the water in the bucket was murky red and the surface of the writing desk shone clean and clear.

Everything was as it had always been. Except that something was different, something Mr Greene could never suspect, something that was to force him out of his house and into the wide world in less than a fortnight.

The Stain

Mr Greene had to admit that his morning began with a fright. At first, he panicked over the spilled tea which ruined his favourite waistcoat. Then, he realised that Mrs Inglis’s now muffled cries still resounded from afar. Surely, there was more to this than mere fuss over spilled tea and a ruined breakfast. Leaning across his writing desk in search of a clean napkin, Mr Greene hurriedly reached to the right. His outstretched fingers landed in a pool of smooth warm liquid. With a swift movement of the hand, Mr Greene wiped his fingers on some papers and muttering a curse looked down. The horror! His palm and fingers were completely covered in blood, blood which had started to clot right on top of his great-grandfather’s desk, blood which had infiltrated the pores of the wood and had left a large and irregular dark stain there. Realising that Mrs Inglis’s fright could not have been caused by anything but the blood, Mr Greene rushed down the stairs in pursuit of his housekeeper and found her huddled in a corner behind the stables.

“Mrs Inglis, please! I am fine!” Mrs Inglis looked at him in disbelief and hiccupped.

“Are you… are you… a ghost? Oh, my poor Mr Greene, I am so sorry that it had to end like this! What a horrible way to die…” She swallowed back her tears but a distracted sigh escaped her.

“No, you are mistaken, Mrs Inglis, I am fine. I am not a ghost. The stain you saw… it is not my blood.” Mr Greene tried to reassure her and took out a bloody napkin from his waistcoat pocket. Mrs Inglis sunk back against the wall, her wild gaze set on the napkin.

“Oh, this… I tried to clean up the mess upstairs… Mrs Inglis, please, come up and help me out with this. I have so many things to do and now this… Please!” Mr Greene waved impatiently and started for the house.

Mrs Inglis strutted reluctantly along, feeling incredibly silly and outrageously superstitious. Yet, if Mr Greene was not dead and if the stain of blood on his writing desk was not his, whose blood was it? Mrs Inglis and Mr Greene rarely left the house at all. Mrs Inglis’s domain was downstairs – the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, the stables and the back yard. When Mr Greene was not tending to the rose garden in the front yard, and this he usually did in the mornings, he spent a considerable amount of time in his study or in his library and he always left the door separating the two rooms open. Wiping her eyes in her apron, Mrs Inglis dashed forward to catch up with Mr Greene who was opening the back door. Whoever had bled on that desk must have been very quiet and very inventive indeed, she thought.

Prologue

The rays of a tired morning light crept up the western shelf, lined with the favourite leather-bound volumes of Mr Edward Barrister Greene who was nodding in his armchair. This scene would have had nothing horrible in itself were it not for the gruesome stain of glittering ruby-red blood on Mr Greene's desk. It was a carefully polished pine writing desk with a profusion of drawers within drawers, commissioned to the village carpenter by Mr Greene's great-grandfather himself and was to be handed down from father to son for generations to come. The desk bore the mark of the Barrister Greene family – the clean, elegantly slanted letters E. B. G. were engraved on the silver handle of a tiny secret compartment situated on the inside of one of its legs. When Mr Greene explored the contents of his desk, it always felt like finding one’s way through a complex labyrinth. He used it for writing of course but he never could discover a system to remember what trinkets lay hidden within the countless slots, the strange detachable boxes and the innumerable sliding compartments that made up this formidable piece of craftsmanship. As an ancient family heirloom, the desk was supposed to be restored regularly and kept in perfect condition. When he did not read or study, or work in his rose garden, Mr Green spent his time polishing the desk with a soft cloth of yellow silk. But now that the stain of blood was there, everything was to change. Now, that the stain was there, this desk would most mysteriously lead Mr Greene to the most enigmatic adventure of his uneventful life.

Mr Edward Greene did not know all of this. Fast asleep in his green velvet armchair, he dreamt of books, gnomes, unicorns and faeries, his spectacles sliding down to the tip of his nose. But his early morning nap was not to last. Hurried steps, the clatter of a tea set and the smell of freshly baked buns came from below. The library door creaked ajar. Cautiously, the tip of Mrs Aileana Inglis‘s pointed nose peeped through the narrow opening. Mrs Inglis was the housekeeper, a dear old creature of six and eighty who kept her white hair in a tidy net and whose favourite occupation consisted in running around the kitchen in a blue batik dress. Every morning, she brought Mr Greene his breakfast and then busied herself with the cleaning and washing up. But that morning, on entering Mr Greene's study, Mrs Inglis was to become the witness of a horrible crime. The first thing she inadvertently laid her eyes on was the stain of blood on the desk. The poor old creature stood transfixed. Then, her eyes started turning wildly round and round in their orbits, convulsions seized her whole body and the silver tray flew across the room. Mrs Inglis’s trembling hands searched the pockets of her apron for a small pink pillbox with mechanic rapidity. “A crime! A horrible, heinous crime! Murder and blood!” Shouting wildly, she ran down the winding staircase fast as a weasel and her shrill, piercing cries reached the stables where two mules leaned comfortably on each other and thoughtfully munched yellow sticks of hay. Meanwhile, Mr Greene stretched in his chair with a lazy yawn and on opening one eye, he noticed two narrow streaks of tea trickling down from his spectacles onto the velvet brim of his pea green waistcoat.

A Mysterious Message is Revealed Upon Opening the Manuscript

Whoever opens this book shall find no peace. The writings herein assembled shall haunt his days and trouble his nights until the last page is reached. Beware thou, careless reader, lest thou be aware of evil! Pass this manuscript onto your progeny, that seven times seven descendants may peruse these yellowed pages. Teach them to know wickedness when they see it so they may seek understanding of the Greater Good.

A Letter to the Reader

Dear Reader,

You are holding in your hands the modernised version of an unpublished manuscript written by an unknown hand. The copy of this matchless document was scribbled down by the now blind bard Owen Pritchard. It is said that all was dictated to him by a Higher Power in a moment of utter dissipation and dire poverty. His cautious graphological imitation of the ancient Greene chronicles is the only surviving sample of his writing.

The Editor