As most of my friends and not few of my enemies are aware, I am a great aficionado of red wine. I am not above the effect of alcohol, but my particular interest in this regard I attribute to the sensation, manifest in a glass of vintage red, of savoring a link to the past. There is something calming in a drink made from grapes picked four generations ago. It assures me that what has come and gone is not lost. So, when Miles Delaraux invited me to dinner at his estate on the occasion of his acquiring a bottle of Burgundy that predated the Revolution, I accepted with perhaps more enthusiasm than decorum would allow.
My alacrity in this case was partly due to my interest in the Delaraux brothers’ peculiar constitutions. Miles was not younger than I, but he had the robust physique and carefree, unlined face of a man yet to see thirty—one for whom fifty, as he and I both were, seemed an impossibility. His youthfulness was frankly uncanny. It was made doubly so by the appearance of his twin brother, Nigel Delaraux, whose pallid complexion and wasted frame were more appropriate to doddering elderliness than late middle age. That one brother should be so prematurely old and the other so preternaturally young was a matter of hushed speculation in our little village—speculation that, at times, ran to the sinister and even supernatural. I personally placed no stock in such tales, but the curiosity that is the invariable companion of such skepticism only increased my excitement at the prospect of investigating the Delaraux brothers in their natural habits.
The Delaraux estate is a familiar landmark to residents of our corner of England, yet that evening as I approached I was unsettled by a sense of strangeness, as if the gray-windowed Tudor mansion I saw so frequently from the road had been replaced by an identical facade. This sensation increased as I drew closer, and I suddenly thought of an evening, long ago, when I observed a dove’s feather through a microscope. Strange details overwhelmed my image of the familiar. I noticed for the first time the peculiar symmetry of that house, as if its outline had been cut from a doubled sheet of paper subsequently unfolded. When Miles Delaraux opened the door, I felt foolish at my surprise to see it swing only toward one side.
Miles greeted me with enthusiasm and hung my jacket on the golden coat hanger beside the door. He led me through a hall adorned with large portraits of his ancestors, hung in chronological order. With each step, Miles cheerfully explained the story behind each ancestor. From the dates on the portraits, I gathered that all of the Delaraux men had died young, most in their early fifties. The last picture in the hall was of Miles and Nigel as young boys. One did not appear any older than the other. When I commented on the striking resemblance Miles and Nigel shared in their youth, Miles confirmed that they were indeed identical twins. He then quickly turned the conversation to wine, suggesting that with each Delaraux man there was a bottle and a story. As both of us were aficionados, I took great interest in this conversation, inquiring about each Delaraux man’s palette. He spoke particularly highly of his great grandfather, the first wine collector in England to build a cellar in his house with a limited collection of Bordeaux.
In the dining room, the smell of food was masked only by the smell of perfectly aged red wine. A massive gold-leafed chandelier hung above the dining table, and under it laid an elegant centerpiece which held the wine for the evening. The table was wooden and large enough to seat almost twenty guests. Miles gestured for me to sit next to him and stated that soon his brother would join us. I arranged myself comfortably in my seat just as Miles began talking about the red wine before us. He explained that a famous Swiss doctor had visited the estate to study his and his brother’s condition, and that the doctor could make no sense of it, but left the bottle to express his gratitude for their hospitality. I inquired about the doctor’s findings, citing his renown as reason enough to pursue any leads he may have discovered. When Miles stated that there were no findings, I fought off the urge to ask for more details.
When Nigel arrived, dinner was served. I commented on the excellence of the wine and how well it suited the food. Though Miles too spoke highly of the wine and was obviously proud to be serving it, he did not drink any himself. Instead, he drank from a decanter on the sideboard behind him whose contents appeared to be a slightly darker, perhaps thicker, red wine. I also noticed that Nigel was unusually quiet and ate little throughout the meal. Miles spoke for his brother, explaining that Nigel was not feeling well, though Nigel was kind enough to clear the table for everyone before excusing himself to his chamber.
“Well then, what a fantastic little meal,” said Miles. “Would you like to see the wine cellar?”
I expressed my agreement with a brief smile and a nod, trying as best I could to control my excitement and prevent it from overcoming my composure. I also figured that the tour would present me with another opportunity to inquire about the Delaraux condition. As we proceeded toward the wine cellar in the west wing, Miles was indeed more receptive to my inquiries. He mentioned his relative youthfulness compared to his brother, and asked if I had ever noticed the difference. I said that I had, which prompted his explanation about the hereditary blood disease particular to the Delaraux family.
“All of the Delaraux men have died young and most in their early fifties,” he said. “We are the first twins in six generations, and our aging disorder is what attracted the Swiss doctor…”
As he was spoke, the sound of a bell ringing from the east interrupted him.
“That would be Nigel, wanting help into bed,” Miles explained.
He excused himself, pointing the direction to the cellar down a hallway and around the corner. When I arrived at the end of the hall, I spotted the entrance to the cellar, but was more intrigued by the candlelit room beside it. I noticed the light from underneath the massive door, a thick barrier constructed of wooden planks and steel support frames. Left to my own devices, I embarked on the most impolite of guest behaviors, pushing the whole of my weight against the large door in an attempt to pry into the secrets that waited behind it. To my surprise, it creaked open. Inside, I discovered a room full of exercise equipment—dumbbells, hanging rings, pulley devices, and several strange contraptions with hand grips and foot pedals. The walls were lined with horizontal shelves that seemed to droop under the weight of books, flasks, burners, metal thongs, and other scientific instruments. In the center of the room was a cast iron table with several open books, one pertaining to soldering metals, and another a sort of guide to the human anatomy, complete with diagrams charting the geography of blood vessels within the body. The last book was small with a brown leather cover. Upon reading the first few pages, I quickly discovered it to be the journal of Wallace Blanche, the famous Swiss doctor who visited the Delaraux estate and gave Miles the wine. One of his early entries discussed the unusual Delaraux blood disease. It was written: “numerous tests show that Miles and Nigel have no visible nor hereditary disorders. Their family members have a history of dying at a young age, but I cannot find any information to explain this phenomenon. Miles’ thyroxin count is noted to be higher than Nigel’s, giving him a faster metabolism, but this is the only difference I can ascertain. June 14, 1884.”
I shuffled through the pages until reaching the last, most notably entry. It read: “The nights are getting longer and the days shorter here at the Delaroux Estate. I’ve passed four nights here and have found nothing that can describe the brothers’ disorder. I’ve noticed that through my failures, Miles is growing more suspicious of my work and discrediting my conclusions, which are quite limited. I believe there is nothing abnormal about either twin. Rather, I am suspicious about Miles, who has been encouraging me to accept as true what I consider to be several false diagnoses… My knowledge of each twin expands only to the depths of their body and not to the circumstances of their lives. Perhaps the answer lies behind closed doors, for Miles has limited my access of the grounds to only a few rooms in the west wing… My stay is becoming less hospitable. Nothing has stirred my suspicion more than that dreaded bell, ringing every night precisely at nine o’clock when Miles puts Nigel to bed. I have asked to observe the Nigel at this hour, as he is drifting to sleep, but my request has not been granted. June 19, 1884.”
After a moment’s hesitation, I decided to pursue the doctor’s request. The nine o’clock bell had rung only fifteen minutes prior, so I figured my opportunity to observe Miles and Nigel in their bedtime activities was still available. I made my way to the east wing, through the hallway where Miles had led me, back through the dining room, past the row of portraits, and up a set of stairs leading to the bedroom. I opened the door slightly, remaining quiet, and peered inside the room to see Nigel lying on an elevated bed surrounded by medical equipment. An IV connected Nigel’s arm to a bottle of reddish liquid on the nightstand. Miles sat on the bed beside him. At first glance, I believed the liquid to be wine, but closer inspection revealed that the bottle was situated lower than the bed, and that the liquid flowing through the IV was not running fluid into Nigel Delaraux—it was taking it out. A small portion of this red liquid dripped on Miles’ hands. Rather than wiping it away, Miles lifted his hand to his mouth and slurped it off. I gasped upon witnessing this sight, and Miles moved his head slightly as if he had heard me. Scared to interrupt or be noticed, I made my way back to the wine cellar to await Miles’ return. When he arrived, he apologized for his abrupt departure, and made no mention of the disruption in the bedroom. He invited me further into cellar to see a cask of Amontillado, a famous liqueur, and in my effort to seem nonchalant, I agreed.
The stairs creaked with every step placed, and the heavy dust impaired my vision. In the storeroom, Miles roamed his collection of wines, brushing off their faces to inspect their labels. Then he asked, “Do I horrify you?”
Miles explained that he owes his robust constitution to his brother’s sacrifice. He stated that “by drinking an elixir made from Nigel’s blood, I will be the first Delaraux man to live seventy years.”
After hearing these words, I made a quick attempt to leave the storeroom, but Miles responded deftly and wrestled me to the ground. He was as strong as he appeared, and within a few moments I found myself in the corner of the room, listening in horror as a series of bolts were being locked from the other side of the door. Utterly defeated, I worked a small piece of metal free from the base of a nearby cask, pulled a bottle from the collection, and started working away at one of the corks.
Age 16, Grade 11