The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime. -- Sir Edward Grey, 3 August 1914
This waltz, this waltz, this waltz, this waltz
With its very own breath of brandy and death
Dragging its tail in the sea.
-- Leonard Cohen, 'Take This Waltz'
Theirs was a golden world.
Twenty-five years had passed since a frozen night in February when a man named Richard Perrivale had died behind the locked doors of Pomfrey House Hospital in Yorkshire. It had been declared a suicide at the time, but Humphrey Lancaster had suspected otherwise, as had his eldest brother Harry, the newly named heir of both Lancaster and Perrivale. Their father had seen to that; he might as well have signed the will himself for all the choice he had given Cousin Richard.
Five years too since Harry himself had gone missing thousands of miles away. He'd never quite fit into this world, however well he played the part of wealthy squire, devoted husband, and smiling father. It was Humphrey who had taken it upon himself to care for Harry's son and namesake in this strange, wild time, and Humphrey who had wilfully ignored the less pleasant choices his brother had made, both in Chancery and out of it.
He knew, as they all did, that the past could not stay buried forever and that dead men's shadows pursued the living even in the most glorious of days. So Humphrey chose to meet it head-on and addressed a letter to the far reaches of northern Wales where--if Harry's records were correct and they always were--a woman named Anne York still dwelt, whose husband had died before Humphrey's very eyes.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
The letter he received in return was stilted, long-buried anger resurfacing in each penstroke, but at least she had responded. Indeed, she even mentioned her son, now an undergraduate in Oxford. His name--and something unsettling lanced through Humphrey as he read this--was Richard.
But he was not a man to read his fortune in a series of coincidences, to endow a name with a ghost's power. Richard Perrivale was dead. Whatever the manner of his death, whatever nightmarish images it conjured, he was gone, safely buried with his wife in Kensal Green. The world had long since moved on, and it was high time the Lancasters did the same.