They had been clearing out the attic. For decades items no longer required had been pushed up there, out of sight and out of mind. They were things for which there was no current use but which might come in handy later on. How anyone could think that a rusty hamster cage would ever again be useful was a question not to be asked. There was a buggy, too and a doll's cot, both old-fashioned though not in a collectable sense. Oil heaters, used in previous cold homes, gathered dust on their burners. Baby clothes and teenagers' fashions, scout uniforms, wedding finery had been gnawed into holes and used for nesting and bringing up generations of mice. There were spare rolls of wallpaper still in their original wrappings left over from decorating children's rooms twenty years ago. Outgrown riding boots, wellingtons, slippers had seemingly tramped across the boards and then been cast off so that the pairs were separated. Shoes without laces, sandals without buckles, trousers and jeans, buttons missing, zips broken – what emotional hold had these that they were not either mended or discarded but stored under the roof?
All attics have at least one trunk and a couple of old suitcases in them and this loft was no exception. The cases contained a few scraps of paper – receipts and invoices for purchases and jobs completed long ago. The trunk looked more interesting. It held a couple of tin boxes with small toys – zoo and farm animals, cars and trucks, building bricks. Those were set aside for visiting children.
Behind the trunk were mountains of books – old exercise books and school text books. One book teetered atop a pile of larger tomes. It was thick and black and covered with dust. Its boards were bowed and creaking. It looked dull and uninspiring and parts of it had provided a passing snack for small rodents. As he handed it to her to put in the refuse pile an envelope dropped out. She gasped. He, unusually attuned, for memories had been evoked for him in the course of this clear-out through photographs and birthday and Christmas cards, old examination papers, asked why she was thus alerted.
Tremulously she showed him the envelope. Of course it meant nothing to him until she explained that the writing was her grandmother's. She had always been close to her grandmother, her confidante in her final years indeed and her grandmother had always implied that she had left something for her granddaughter, something to enrich her life. He asked her what she meant and she replied that she had no clear idea of her grandmother's intent but that she had always been led to believe that her grandmother had hidden treasures – maybe this envelope contained the clue or the key to that bounty. Perhaps she was about to become an heiress?! There had been family rumours of immense but lost wealth, of valuable artefacts hidden in inaccessible locations.
Carefully she withdrew the fragile single sheet from the envelope, breathing in the faded scent of her grandmother and smiling reminiscently. She was eager yet reluctant to discover the knowledge at which the writer had hinted. She closed her eyes, prolonging the moment of realisation, breathed deeply and focussed on the words in front of her.
These are my last words to you, my darling Granddaughter. I have lived my life by them and I hope you will too. Contrary to family rumours I have never had great wealth or wondrous possessions. I enjoyed the love of a good man, your grandfather, who gave up his expectations of power and money to marry for love. Your great-uncle, his younger brother, became then the beneficiary of your Great-Grandfather's fortune, taking over the administration of the business. I was never happier than when married to my beloved husband. I received this from him and lived by it .
She looked at the words, in such beautiful calligraphy, and suppressed a sigh; she had expected nothing and in return she had received a treatise by which to live . . .
'This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.'
She fell into hysterical laughter and her husband, concerned, watched her.
'Let's get on, clearing this mess,' she said and he agreed for tomorrow the estate agents would arrive to evaluate the house – and the selling price would be agreed. Perhaps that would be the prize.
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