A black cat with yellow eyes looks into the camera, a close-up portrait of a cat on a black background.


by Mick Hunter

Silas Crabtree leapt from the cab, tossed a coin to the driver and without a backward glance, strode up the steps towards the house. His brother, Seth, lived in a fine Georgian terrace, not too ostentatious, tucked away from the bustling centre of the town with its choking, smoky factories. He rapped hard on the door with his cane and waited impatiently for the maid to answer. When the door swung open, he barged past the startled young girl and into the hallway.

“Where is he?” he snapped at the tear stained maid. She pointed towards the elegant marble staircase which wound towards the upper floors of the house.

“The doctor is with him in his room sir. He said to tell you he won’t last the night.”

Bursting into tears, she fled down the corridor towards the kitchen. Stupid girl, Silas thought. Waste of emotions. Seth Crabtree had been taken ill exactly one week ago. Whilst visiting the factory they owned, he had collapsed on the stairs and been taken to the hospital he had built for his own workers. There was little that could be done and so they had sent him home to die. Soon all this would belong to Silas. As next of kin he would inherit everything.

He strode towards the staircase but jerked to a halt. There, on the second step was Titus. He sat staring at Silas with those luminous yellow eyes set in sleek, black fur. He was named after Seth’s mentor, Sir Titus Salt, who had trained Seth and given him his blessing to open his own factory in a different part of the county. Silas had been given co-ownership as a kindness by his brother. Everything he turned his hand to seemed to fail. He was the complete opposite of his sibling. Six years younger than Seth but appearing much older. He looked bloated and florid from over eating and spending his brother’s wealth. Secretive, where the other was open. Mean where Seth was generous. Cruel, where his brother was kind. Their mother had died in child birth and so had their baby sister when Silas was ten years old and Seth, 16. The event had twisted one brother, inspired the other.

He swung a boot at the cat but it easily avoided him and growled a warning as it padded off down the hallway. Climbing the stairs he marvelled at the skill that had gone into the making of them. Using the same marble that Sir Titus had used on the church in Saltaire, they took every visitor’s breath away who visited Leodis House. He hesitated outside his brother’s room. He could hear a lone voice speaking calmly and soothingly. He opened the door slowly and saw Dr Rutherford leaning over his brother who was propped up with pillows in the four poster bed.

“Ah, you’ve arrived at last then Seth,” the doctor said, arching an eyebrow. He was young for a medic. Too gaudily dressed for Silas’s liking but there was no doubting his expertise.

“He’ll not last the night,” Rutherford stated simply. “What about William? He should be here”
“He’ll not set foot in this house while I have breath in my body!” Silas spat. “Silas, he has every right. Seth is his legal guardian”

“I’m next of kin, that boy deserves nothing! Some backstreet urchin that my soft-hearted brother took pity on. Does he think he’s going to get his hands on all this?” Silas span around, arms open wide. “He doesn’t care. All he wants is for Seth to get better but we know that’s not going to happen. After the Cholera took Mary, William was there for Seth. Unlike you” “I had a factory to run!” screamed Silas,” and I’ll thank you to keep your opinions to yourself sir. Now, leave me be with my brother. I thank you for what you’ve done. Kindly leave.”

The doctor shook his head sadly. “If you had an ounce of your brothers kindness Silas, your life would’ve been so much richer.”

Crabtree slammed the door behind the departing physician which elicited a low moan from his brother. He crept towards the bed. The once handsome features had become twisted, the left hand side of the face drooping, mouth drooling saliva. Eyelids fluttered, as if he were dreaming. Aye, well not long now brother and you’ll be in a better place. And I certainly will be. The factory, the house, the land. All his. William was getting nothing. Just because his mother was crushed by the loom, Seth had never forgiven himself. He made a promise to look after the boy. They had been unable to have children and looked upon him as their own when he came under their care at the age of four. Swanning around as if he owned this place
already and fawning over Seth and Mary. There was an undoubted bond and love there between them though, he couldn’t deny that. What did Silas care? He’d send the lad, more man now as he was 22, back to the poor house where he belonged.

He settled himself into the chair next to the bed and began to plan what he would do with the money. A monument to himself? Some symbol of his power and new found riches appealed. He could leave the running of the factory to Fairfax, the overseer, while he spent more time at Whitelocks, dining. Yes, that appealed. And every single person who had slighted him would pay. He had the means and power to do it now. After a time he grew bored of contemplating and planning. He stretched in the chair, arching his back and stretching arms and legs. He stood and paced around the room. Couldn’t his brother just hurry up a little? Could he perhaps help the process? He eyed the numerous pillows propping Seth up. Who would know? It would appear that his brother’s valiant struggle had come to an end, he had gone to be reunited with Mary and all the workers could cry and wring their hands over their beloved master. Things would be different when he was in charge.

He crept towards the bed. Reaching out he slowly removed the nearest pillow so as not to disturb Seth too much. Even so, he moaned and appeared agitated again. Silas waited for it
to pass. Sweat had broken out on his forehead and was soaking his shirt. His breathing had become shallow and his heart was racing like the pistons driving the factories machines. He held the pillow tightly in both hands. A soft thump diverted his attention. Titus sat at the bottom of the bed, those yellow eyes boring into him. He turned back to his brother and loomed over him. Titus issued a low, rumbling growl. Silas hesitated, doubt beginning to seep into his mind. What if Rutherford was suspicious? What if Seth struggled? The cat hissed and growled again. Silas span round and hurled the pillow at the animal but with its usual fluid grace, it sprang from the bed and disappeared. He slumped back into the chair, muttering silent curses at the feline and making plans to have the thing drowned when he moved in.

He must have dozed for a while as he was woken by his brother’s rasping coughing. His body was racked with pain as the life began to ebb away from him. Silas sat on the bed, watching
this enfold before him, making no attempt to comfort his dying brother. Suddenly, Seth’s arm reached out and clasped his brother’s hand. Silas reared back but the grip was iron like. Seth’s eyes slowly opened and gazed past Silas. A beatific smile spread across his face. He whispered one word, “Mary” and slid from this world into the next.

Silas shook free from the grasp of his dead brother. He hadn’t realised how cold the room had become. Shivering, he put his frock coat around his shoulders and checked the time on the grandfather clock. Three thirty five in the morning. He gazed at his brother. So peaceful. Some of the look of his old self had come back. How strange. Crabtree paced the room. He did a little jig. This was most unlike him. He giggled. It was a cause for celebration though. The second richest man in Yorkshire. He poured a measure of port and toasted his deceased brother. “Here’s to new ways, my ways and lazy days,” and he drained the glass in one.

He was hungry. In fact, he was starving. Seth kept a good larder. There was bound to be bread and cheese there. Maybe another port to wash it down? He didn’t normally imbibe often and had been tempted to join The Temperance Movement but all those do-gooders infuriated him. He preferred solitude. He closed the door and stood surveying his surroundings. The house was decorated simply but tastefully with paintings of the area on most walls. The only sign of decadence was the staircase. Silas strode purposefully towards it now, bread and cheese on his mind. He reached the top stair, almost salivating at the prospect of breaking his fast. A flash of black flew between his feet, knocking him off balance. He hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity, arms frantically reaching for the bannister, before crashing down the heavy marble stairs. He lay, legs still on the stairs, body on the floor, head twisted to an angle at one side. As his vision began to fade, a black shape padded into view and seated itself in front of his face. He could swear the cat was smiling. The last thing Silas Crabtree heard was Titus purring…