Chapter Twenty Seven
Myrtle, upon waking and immediately realizing Henry wasn’t lying next to her, was the first one to read the note.
To my dearest wife Myrtle and friends, Angelia and Caroline,
I know I promised to put off the investigation until this storm passed and it was safe to do so. I made that promise before Gus Woodsbe, an intern at the hospital, called about one thirty this morning. He informed me that two very suspicious looking characters were hanging around the hospital with Harriet Mitchem. Gus described them as being dirty looking, with a malicious and dangerous attitude. He also thought that one of the men closely resembled the man in the newspaper sketch, a while back.
As you know, it’s my sworn duty to protect the citizens of Gilfords Falls, no matter what! Promise or no promise, I have to protect the Gilfords heirs, whom, happen to be our beloved Mary and children. Don’t forget that they may be the only ones in the world who know where Martha and the others are.
Please don’t worry if I don‘t call right away. You know how these storms affect the phone service. I promise if the phones are working, ’I’ll call as soon as I know anything. If for some reason I can’t call, I’ll have someone else call for me. Please don’t worry, remember, I’m a tough old bear and I’ll be fine!
To you Myrtle my love, I give my heart. To you Caroline and Angelia, my love. Until later,
Myrtle had taken one look at the note and immediately burst into tears. “It’s as if he doesn’t expect to return, be shot or worse,” she said tearfully.
“Oh pooh!” retorted Angelia. “You know just as well as I do, there’s not a better tracker, woodsman or survivalist this side of the Mississippi, then Henry! So, give it a rest and let’s get some breakfast before we starve to death!”
However, by the time the phone rang at around four thirty Tuesday afternoon, Caroline and Angelia were frantic, and Myrtle was on the verge of collapse. She had read and reread Henry’s letter so many times since Sunday morning that it was in tatters.
The minute the phone rang Myrtle pounced on it, “Hello Henry?” she said.
“No, sorry,” said the pleasant voice, “I’m Lyla Crowley, Karr’s wife. Mr. Patterson asked me to call Myrtle as soon as the phones were working and let her know he’s just fine and sorry to have worried all of you. He said something about a stack of evidence and someone possibly hiding out at Caroline’s and for her to stay put until she heard from him.”
“Did he say when he’d be home?” asked Myrtle with a sigh.
“I’m sorry, but he didn’t say anything except what I just told you,” said Lyla.
Somewhere in the background, Myrtle could hear a baby crying. “That’s Cameron Karr Junior,” said Lyla, “he’s only three months old, but his big sisters have already spoiled him rotten. He thinks the sun, moon and stars shine just for him, so I guess I’d better go feed him, before he screams the house down.”
Well, at least we know he’s still living,” said Myrtle, jokingly, as she hung up the phone. Henry also has a message for you, Caroline, he said, you’re to stay put. He thinks someone’s hiding in your house and probably in the west wing of the attic. Apparently, they busted the door lock to get in.”
Well,” said Myrtle chuckling to dispense the gloom, “I suppose this means that he won’t be home for supper again tonight, and Caroline won’t be going home either.”
“I think you’re right,” said Angelia with a grin.
“I think you’re right too,” said Caroline. “Now what are we going to fix for our supper? Whatever it is, let’s make something fun and yummy like we used to after Cole and I married. He’d be out of town, and I’d be too scared to stay alone, even with the servants there. I’d call and you’d both come over and stay until Cole returned.
What do you say, let’s make an extra-large pizza with every conceivable topping we can think of on it, to take our minds off Henry and whoever is in my house. Though I can’t imagine what’s in the attic that anyone would want to steal.” Caroline said with a shrug.
They washed the pizza down with Apple pie alamode and piping hot coffee. As they ate, they pondered the question of who was in Caroline’s attic and what reason they could possibly have for being there in the first place.
“Why would anyone be up there?” mused Caroline. “The attics were closed off years ago. To my knowledge the last time anyone was in the attics, was a couple of months after Cole and I returned from our honeymoon. After exploring the downstairs, we’d decided to explore the attics. It took months for us to explore them. As I recall we’d make a game of finding the funniest outfit, pictures of the dourest relative or the weirdest piece of furniture.”
“If I remember right, the west attic was packed full of trunks with moth eaten clothes, journals, and account books from the gold rush days. There may also have been some old wills, maps and contracts in one of the trunks. We’d been searching to see who could find the oddest-looking object, when I spied this curious looking little trunk. Someone had carved little bluebells and sparrows all over every part of it except for the sides, which were kind of crooked, wavy or something and had a river with a waterfall carved into one side of it. The other-side was carved with vines and little bells. It was a beautiful little trunk and no bigger than a breadbox.”
“Cole tried but couldn’t get it open. You see, there was no place for a lock or a key. He must have studied that chest for over an hour. Suddenly he murmured something about a legend his great grandmother once told him.”
“Once years and years ago, two half-brothers went off together in search of gold. One brother worked day and night in the gold fields and soon acquired a fortune. The other brother did little work, preferring the gambling houses and acquired little, if any gold, which he quickly squandered.”
“The first brother returned home with all his gold and bought an enormous tract of land that extended for over ten miles in all directions. It was upon this land that he built a huge house, storing his gold in a hidden room in one of the dungeons.
The man knowing he’d need families to work the good rich soil, built a town near a beautiful waterfall, and on the highest hill he built an exquisitely beautiful house of worship with a towering fifty-foot bell tower behind it.
In the tower was a bell with the loveliest tone, which he rang every Sabbath to call the towns people to worship, or to warn of a coming disaster. The town was soon filled with willing, happy, workers and he profited greatly.”
“The man was very successful in all ways but one. His wife and only child had died two short years after their marriage and he had mourned their deaths until the day he died.”
“Several years later the half-brother returned broke and accompanied by his rag-tag family. Upon seeing how wealthy his brother had become, the step-brother demanded half of everything his rich brother owned.
When the brother refused, the man and his rag-tag family set about spreading rumors that his brothers gold actually belonged to him and his family. The man told everyone his brother had stolen the gold from him, and had left him in the gold fields, destitute and dying.
After a huge court battle which the returning brother lost, the hard working rich brother immediately wrote a secret will for future generations to find. He hid it in a funny little trunk that he then hid away and nobody ever saw again.
I remember Cole telling me his great grandmother’s mother made him memorize the whole legend, and a rhyme before she died.
When the three are one, Their rescuers come. The innocent to save. The cowardly scoundrels, will be undone. Some by violence. Some by the grave.
“That rhyme doesn’t make any more sense now than it did then,” said Caroline shrugging. “Anyway, Cole took the trunk and stashed it somewhere known only to him.”
“Actually, what I remember most about that room, are the itchy old horsehair couches, said Caroline grinning mischievously “ and the old secretaries with pretty scenes carved into them. I think one had a river running through it and blue bells everywhere and the other one had a carving of a beautiful river and a waterfall. I wanted to put them in my parlor, but Cole thought they’d fall apart if we tried to move them. So, you see, there’s nothing worth stealing in that room, except the memories!”
“Humph,” said Angelia, with a grin. “The question is what if the snoops are looking for that one particular trunk?”
What’s so important about it, that they'd break into your house to find it?” asked Myrtle.
“I haven’t a clue,” said Caroline slowly, trying to recall something that Cole had said about the trunk itself, but what, she didn’t know.
“I think if we’re going to figure out what’s so important about that one trunk, who was in the attic, and who stole our children, we’d better go back to the beginning,” said Angelia.
“How well did you know the step-side of Cole’s family? Myrtle asked.
“Not very well at all. Cole nor his family wanted anything to do with most of them, although there were a few exceptions like Jessup Larkins, Philip Mitchem, and Thomas Hinkley. Anyway, at Cole’s great grandmother’s insistence we did invite every known relative to the wedding, except the three I just mentioned, as they seemed to have disappeared off the very face of the earth.”
“Where Cole inherited the Gilfords property, including the trunk,” said Myrtle. “But why leave the Gilfords fortune to Cole and you?”
“I seem to remember overhearing my parents discussing that will, and the generous gift Cole and you received,” said Angelia thoughtfully.
“Weren’t several relatives angry because they didn’t get to inherit?” Myrtle asked.
“There sure were!” Caroline said. “We were just as shocked as everyone else at Cole Senior leaving everything to us. I’ll never forget everyone’s reaction when Attorney Evanston Garner, gave us this fancy wrapped package and a card. On which was written:
Cole, congratulations, on your excellent choice of a marriage partner. May your love forever flourish, growing stronger minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week and year by year! Your hearts, forever twined together in love.”
“If the stork arrives with precious bundles of joy for you to love, and you have sons, I pray you name your first son after me. If you have daughters, a girl named Maggie, after my beloved wife would be grand.”
“We learned later, that his only child had died at birth, and his wife of complications days later. Sadly, his only blood brother had no intentions of marrying, and Cole Senior never remarried.”
“Thinking Cole would never have an heir, his stepbrothers and stepsisters had constantly insinuated that if he wasn’t man enough to produce heirs, they’d be happy to substitute one of theirs, for what he couldn't provide. It seemed they were turning out kids faster than rabbits turn out bunnies!”
“His stepbrothers and stepsisters were constantly begging him for a hand out or bullying him into giving them one, saying, we might as well get some of our inheritance now, because we’ll sure have it when your dead! Thankfully Cole’s father’s uncle had a son, who had a son, whose son had a son he named Cole Michael Giffords the fifth, who became my husband!”
“The box contained an odd assortment of things, including deeds to properties from Pennsylvania to Alaska, to Australia, Brazil, Japan, China, Hawaii, and everywhere in between. There must have been at least twelve hundred deeds.”
“Then there were the keys! Keys, keys, and more keys! They went to everything imaginable!”
“There was a bankbook for each of us with our names engraved in silver on the outside, and in gold on every check in that book! At the very bottom of the box was a bank statement with a beginning balance of ninety-nine-hundred-eighty-two- million, six-hundred-thousand-nine-hundred-seventy-eight dollars! We were so flabbergasted that we nearly passed out! We could hardly comprehend that all told we were worth more than a billion dollars in cash and assets!”
“The Judge just happened to be Cole’s oldest and dearest friend, buddy, mentor, and third cousin. Cole senior had always referred to Demetrius as Deet. I guess no one even realized that Deet was short for Demetrius, that is, until it was too late! Because, the late, great, Judge Demetrius Colby Hardington, had not only witnessed the will, written by Cole, but had also stamped it with the great seal of the Common-wealth of Pennsylvania for good measure.”
“After recovering from the shock of inheriting the Gilfords Fortune, we were surprised to see the attorney and his partners handing every man woman and child an envelope. I’ll give the man credit every envelope contained a copy of the will, a check for one thousand dollars and a clause which stated:
Whoever signs and cashes this check, forfeits now and forever any and all claims for, themselves and all off-spring, any part or parcel of said estate now owned totally and completely by Cole Michael Gilfords and Caroline Ann Storm Gilfords.”
“When several people later threatened us with lawsuits, Evanston Garner explained that they could certainly contest the will all they wanted, but they couldn’t get one red cent more than bequeathed them by Cole senior. They had already received their inheritance, accepted the terms and probably cashed the check!”
“Cole senior had also set aside several million dollars, in case he’d missed anyone. Of course, they’d have to show proof of who they were, and why they hadn’t as yet received their inheritance. The exception to this being Jessup Larkins, Philip Mitchem, and Thomas Hinkley, their kin and families, if any existed.
He had covered all bases by stipulating that children born after the will was probated and executed, were prohibited from making a claim, because their pregnant mothers had also received checks for their unborn child or children.”
“All legal heirs, with the exception of Jessup Larkins, Philip Mitchem, and Thomas Hinkley, their kin and families, must come forward to claim the money within fifty-five years of the will’s execution, which coincides with our wedding day, if no one claims the money, it is to be divided equally among our grandchildren on their eighteenth birthday or one year after the fifty-five years are up. But only when said children are eighteen or older and if no one claims it. If the fifty-five years are up and the inheritors haven’t yet reached the age of eighteen, they must wait until their eighteenth birthday to inherit.”
“Any grandchild or grandchildren we have can inherit the money regardless of their relationship to Cole’s stepbrother’s side of the family. And get this, the fifty-five years will be up five months, three weeks and four days after Mary’s eighteenth birthday!”
“Anyway, the box also contained a sealed envelope, with the sole property of Cole and Caroline Gilfords written on it, and do not open now, open in private ONLY. When Cole saw the letter, he quickly tucked it into a large inside pocket of his tuxedo. It wasn’t until we’d returned from our honeymoon in Paris that we remembered it.”
“We searched everywhere for the tuxedo, before being told Cole’s mother had sent it to the cleaners, then on to the estate along with his other belongings.”
“When Cole asked about the letter, and she said what letter, our hearts sure did skip a few beats.”
“Did you ever find the envelope?” Asked Myrtle, mesmerized by Caroline’s story.
“Not until after we moved into the house and the maid unpacked our bags. I remember she found it the same day we found the trunk. It’s funny how it all happened. We were in the hall outside our bedroom headed for the attic stairs.”
“The maid stopped us and said she’d found something of ours that looked to be of great importance, and asked could we please come into the bedroom to get it. Once in the bedroom she handed us an envelope that she’d found in the bottom of Cole’s garment bag.”
“We were so happy she’d found it, that Cole gave her a hundred-dollar bill and the rest of the week off with pay!”
“Well, what was in the letter?” Angelia and Myrtle asked curiously.
“This,” said Caroline, pulling the long thin silver chain she always wore out from the bodice of her dress. On the chain was a three-inch-long hollow metal rod about one half inch thick. At the bottom of the rod was a ball, that, when pushed in lay flat on the rod, and made the little bells surrounding the piece ring when you shook it gently. If you pulled the ball out, the bells became part of the flowers twining around the piece and wouldn't ring no matter how hard you shook it.”
“On the letter with it was written: When the melody ends and the notes are still, And the lines in the river run up hill. Where they wiggle, dip and sway, the gift you hold, opens the passageway. You must keep this letter, least you forget, let no hands, but yours, have access to it, for if you do, and in the wrong hands it falls, that which was yours, will be theirs by default.” Said Caroline as she finished telling her story.
“Hum, I wonder, what if the trunk, the letter, Cole’s, Maggie’s and Karen’s deaths and the kidnapping all have something to do with the rhyme, the trunk, and the inheritance Cole and you received as a wedding gift?”
“What if the step side of Cole Senior’s family had been plotting for years and years to destroy your family and ruin you financially?”
“Think about it, they didn’t get the inheritance they assumed would be theirs, you did. You even named your daughter Maggie! As he requested. They knew if they caused you any trouble after Maggie was born, everyone would have known the trouble had come from them.”
“What if they had bid their time? Gotten smart. Learned a skill or trade like construction, as in Mary’s garden and castle. Now just hear me out, maybe a couple of them become doctors, private detectives, or even business owners.”
“Those not smart enough or ambitious enough to hold a job became the grunts. They did the dirty work, like kidnapping the girls, and holding them hostage under the guise of running a commune.”
“What if they gave one of their victims a photo of her home and mother? Then threatened her with dire consequences if she showed it to anyone? Probably their sick idea of a joke at Mary’s expense!”
“Look what they would have inherited on her eighteenth birthday. But before they could collect one penny of her inheritance, she escaped with her children. They were suddenly terrified she’d use the photo to find her way home! Which is precisely what she did without even knowing it!”
“Now as a result of Mary’s escape, Zachariah is threatening everyone at the hospital, and Jedidiah is trying to force you to marry him, before Mary blows the whistle on them.” Declared Myrtle, as she finally ran out of breath, and had to stop talking to inhale.
“Why, what a strange observation!” said Caroline. “How could any of that possibly be true?”
“Oh, wait! I just thought of something. Not long after we returned from Paris, Evanston Garner came to the house. He told Cole the step-side of the family had tried to sue our estate. Thankfully, Evanston told the judge that we’d retained him as our attorney, and we did, immediately.”
“Judge Hamilton Moore, seeing the canceled checks, and the disclaimer signed by his idol, Judge Demetrious Colby Hardington the third, had read them the riot act and thrown the case out. He then sternly warned them, that he knew most, if not all, of them had records a mile long, and warned them not to ever come back to his courtroom again, if they did, he wouldn’t hesitate to lock them up and throw the key away!”
“According to Evanston, they’d been so angry at the judge’s ruling they’d vowed to get revenge on Cole and me, no matter how long it took. I’d actually forgotten all about their threat until you put it all together,” said Caroline.
Stifling a yawn, Angelia glanced at the clock. It was almost quarter to four in the morning. Yawning again, she said her goodnights and headed for bed.
She chuckled softly to herself, upon seeing the others following her so closely that had she stopped quickly, they would have run her over.