After the Irish left, Logan and I went back upstairs to investigate the trunks. The sun had dropped behind the trees, so we lit a couple oil lamps and sat down by the trunks.
Our first task was to get them open…luckily I had found a vast key ring last week in the secretary desk in the parlor. We tried at least 15 keys before we found the right one; a very strange iridescent black key about an inch long with three distinct “teeth”. We popped the lid and were greeted with a plume of dust.
Once we stopped coughing and tearing from the dust, we folded back the muslin lining the trunk to reveal a carefully preserved christening gown, layette, baby quilt, much loved stuffed bear, letters of congratulations and a framed death notice which began,
James Alexander Gilbert
April 3, 1894 – June 22, 1894
“This is depressing,” I said placing the frame back in the trunk.
“No kidding,” Logan replied. “Let’s shut this one back up. It’s got bad mojo.”
The next trunk was full of samplers and seemed to be separated into two piles, one Ginny’s and the other her mother’s. The first was extremely yellowed, faded and most austere in design. Perfect script, textbook flowers and only the occasional hint of artistic license appeared on each canvas.
The second pile, Ginny’s we assumed, was less faded and only a few had begun to yellow. They started out just like the first, but soon added an abundance of flowers and hearts. Then hearts and stars began to appear amid the climbing roses and the text shifted from the typical household epigram to quotes from Byron and Shakespeare. From there, the verse on each piece grew darker, the colors darker and the roses more thorn than bud.
“Think someone got her heart broke?” Logan asked rhetorically.
“Gee…who could have done that?” I replied.
The next two trunks were half the size of the first, but twice as heavy. We cracked the first to find a flour sack stamped Lilac Mills inside. We loosened the drawstring and slid the top of the bag down around what turned out to be two stacks of ledgers. The top were stamped ‘Lilac Mills 1929’ and Personal Ledger 1930’, respectively.
“This is awesome!” I yelped. I say “yelped” because it was somewhere between a scream of delight and a yell. I’m not sure there truly is an adequate word for the sound I unleashed, but I’m going with “yelped”. “Actual financial accounts of the stock market crash on a local business and individual! This is an unbelievable find! I almost feel guilty opening them before notifying the museum I have found them.”
“But not guilty enough to actually call the first, right?” Logan prompted.
“Heck no!” I declared grabbing the first personal ledger and cracking the spine.
“Calm down now…let’s focus. Isn’t it better to start at the beginning?”
And so we did, unpacking all of the ledgers and reversing their order as we did so. Logan began with ‘Lilac Mills 1902’ and I with ‘Personal Ledger 1900”. We figured we would cover more ground that way and catch related entire/events more readily.
The first few volumes were pretty uneventful, just buying equipment for the mill, furniture for the house, salaries, school books, nothing out of the ordinary. 1916 held a surprise though…
“You won’t believe this!” I blurted.
“Gilbert posted bail for Henry!”
“What? But he hated Henry, that doesn’t make any sense.”
“What did we do with his journal from that year? He must explain things there.”
We spend the next ten minutes virtually ransacking the boxes we opened yesterday searching for the corresponding journal. Finally, “1916” appeared at the bottom of a box. Logan just held it for a moment in silence. Finally, he passed it to me as if presenting the Gospels to a priest. I cracked it open and started flipping to September 16th as he slid next to me to read over my shoulder.
I tried! I honestly tried to give that boy a chance, but he betrayed my trust. Thrust a blade in my back and twisted the shaft.
Henry, it turns out, was given a job at the mill. A very good job in fact, the kind one would give to a potential son-in-law; assistant clerk. Seems he hoped Henry would learn the business for a year or two, then be promoted to a management position suitable to provide for a wife and young family. Henry, it turns out, couldn’t wait. He stole the weekly deposit from the safe and tried to pin it on Herbert Dunn, the head clerk, who was responsible for making the deposits. Seems Herbert had been riding Henry pretty hard, feeling Henry should have had to work his way up from the loading docks as he had. Henry, on the other hand, thought he should have had Herbert’s job from the start. Herbert was fired and then reinstated when Henry was discovered to be the true offender. Note to self: never try to buy a car from the cousin of the man you stitched up. Henry was arrested, but spent only 9 and a half hours in jail. Ginny intervened.
Ginny has held my ear ever since she learned of Henry’s arrest. My lovely girl blames me for the whole affair. She says he only wanted to buy a motor so he could take her driving, because Henry said she was too good to ride in his father’s old buggy. This is all my fault, because the $20 I paid him each week was not enough for him to afford it on his own. By my calculations, it should have taken him less than a year to save up for one, but Ginny informed me that was too long to wait.
After hours of her tears and scream and pleading I succumbed, went to the station and posted his bail. My Ginny won’t forgive me for not dropping the charges against him, but how could I without leaving a cloud of doubt over poor Herbert? How could I leave an honest man suspect to a crime I know him to be innocent of?
Sweet Ginny has informed me that I will ‘dance with the devil’ for relieving Henry of his position and ruining his chances for obtaining another by allowing the charges to stand. She seems to forget that he will inherit his father’s rather substantial packet boat and barge business.
I fear my girl will never forgive me.
We both drew in a long breath, exhaling slowly, as though it required great concentration and effort.
“Not.at.all…what I expected,” I said.
Logan sat there another moment staring at the page, mouth agape.
“This…it’s just not…I mean…my great-grandfather was a stoic guy…he lived a quiet life, he’s not a…a,” he trailed off obviously upset by this revelation.
“Jameson?” I offered, receiving a slight nod in return. We wandered down to the kitchen, I grabbed two glasses and the bottle, Logan grabbed my hand and lead me out to the lover’s benches. As we ambled through the yard, I noticed him shaking his head forlornly every few steps.
“I just…I can’t get my head around this…I can’t reconcile it…” Logan whispered.
“Shh…it’s the past. The present is this bottle of Jameson.”
I think I spotted a feeble smile cross Logan’s face, but it was so quick I might have imagined it. We sat on Ginny’s bench and I poured us each a glass of the whiskey. It was only 48° out, so ice was unnecessary. In another two weeks there would be snow. The snows always start at Halloween here.
We sat in silence for what seemed like ages. Pained silence. Logan’s pain of confusion, mine at not being able to fix it for him.
“Mah Nà Mah Nà!” I blurted out suddenly.
“What?” Logan asked, emerging from his thoughts.
“Mah Nà Mah Nà!” I repeated.
“As in the Muppets song?” Logan asked, starting to relax.
“Yup…Mah Nà Mah Nà!”
“You are absurd! You do know that, don’t you?” Logan teased pushing my head away with one hand while sliding an arm around the back of my shoulders.
I poured another round of whiskey as we stared out into the darkness of my yard.