It's Not a Donkey Farm

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Chapter 15

Dareau hadn’t noticed them. He was facing the other way, locking his car, as they approached.

‘Good day to you, Dareau.’

Tilly spoke in a tone of voice that Daria had not heard before. Firm, resolute, yet not hostile in any way. And Daria saw how Tilly had drawn herself up and held her shoulders back. And the smile on her face was not totally reflected in her eyes. Dareau jumped. As Tilly had intended.

‘Good god, woman. Do you have to do that’ said Dareau, clearly irritated. Then his eyes narrowed as they alighted on Dari and Alfie. ‘So who are your latest lackeys?’

Dareau sneered as he spoke. And Daria noticed that the smile on Tilly’s face hardened.

‘Now, now, Dareau. Don’t you want to meet a member of your family? And when she’s come all the way from England?’

‘Ha. I’d heard somebody was staying in the old house. So, this is it, eh?’

‘Oh Dareau. Bad manners and bad grammar. It’s always a surprise to me that you are such a successful man.’

Daria was slightly shocked, highly amused and certainly impressed with the way Tilly appeared calm and even concerned. Dareau was certainly being antagonistic. The control of her voice was reflected in steadiness of her gaze into Dareau’s eyes. And Dareau was clearly ruffled by not being able to provoke Tilly.

‘Dareau’ Tilly spoke before Dareau could answer, ‘may I introduce you to Daria. Daria, this is Dareau whom I have told you so much about.’

Dareau pursed his lips and snarled.

‘So, one of Gene’s bastards has finally emerged’ he said.

Tilly moved so quickly that it was all over before Daria could actually believe what had happened. The slap seemed to echo round the square as Dareau held his cheek, eyes practically popping out of his head. He glanced nervously round the square.

‘Oh my god’ thought Daria reeling with shock, ‘he’s afraid of her’ and she glanced at Alfie who was staring wide-eyed at both Tilly and Dareau, and looked ready to leap in if Dareau took a step closer to Tilly.

‘Now’ Tilly said, calmly as ever, eyes set firmly at Dareau, ‘ we will ignore that episode. So, Dareau, this is Daria. Pearl’s great-niece from England. She has come to visit her French family.’

To Daria’s enormous surprise, Dareau took her hand to shake it and muttered something about hoping she enjoyed her stay. He spoke in English with a very heavy accent, then he glanced at Tilly, offered his apologies that he had to go, saying that he was late for a meeting and that he had to rush. Then he walked away with his shoulders hunched.

Daria and Alfie just stood still, staring at his back as he went, both incredulous at what had just happened. They turned to look at each other, mirroring each other’s looks of absolute disbelief.

‘Oh my god’ Daria mouthed.

‘Come, both of you, come’ said Tilly and they both turned to see that she had already walked away and was crossing the green to Alphonse and Pierre.

After friendly greetings and banter about boules with demonstrations from Tilly on how to throw accurately, Daria and Alfie were invited to dinner the following weekend by Alphonse. Alphonse seemed absolutely delighted to meet a relative of Gene. Daria was still thrown by the encounter with Dareau and wasn’t too sure how coherent she was. She hoped that Alfie was translating better than she was speaking.

When they began their walk home, Daria was just about to speak.

‘Yes, I know Daria’ said Tilly, ‘some would see all that as a bit shameful. And no doubt you see a contradiction in me, what with all my chatter about violence never being the solution. Ah, flower angel. For that I am sorry. But I will not apologise for what I did, for I will not hear anything bad about Gene. When I was a child, too many people gossiped about him and my tolerance for that disappeared years ago. And so I will not hear anything like that about you. Dareau knows that.’

‘Well if he didn’t before, he certainly does now’ said Daria, a smile beginning to broaden on her face.

‘Oh, he knew before. That is not the first time’ said Tilly and she began to laugh, very heartily. ‘Oh, did you see his face?’

‘Tilly, he’s terrified of you’ said Daria, wondering if she should be shocked at Tilly laughing about it. Daria couldn’t help feeling an admiration for this little old woman and her tenacity.

‘I know. And how ridiculous is that. A big, rich man afraid of me’ said Tilly and continued laughing.

‘Well, I think I could very easily be afraid of you under the right circumstances’ said Daria, ‘you just don’t realise how formidable you are.’

‘Ah, did I shock you, flower angel?’

‘Yes, you did. But in hindsight, somehow no.’

‘The man is a bully. He did not need to sneer when he first saw you. That was his choice. And, he knows I will never tolerate unjust comments. I will not hear him say such things about you or about Gene. He could have just said hello and gone on his way. It is always up to him. The man is a fool.’

‘Tilly, you never cease to amaze me’ said Alfie.

‘ Nor me’ said Daria, ‘and, in fact, since I first arrived in France, I have been bombarded with the unexpected, the amazing and the downright peculiar. No, I’m wrong. It’s ever since Opa died. No, actually it’s been ever since I first met Opa. This is just a concentrated version.’

*

After lunch, they all sat round Tilly’s table looking at the letter and the clue.

‘Tilly, I can’t understand the clue at all. I don’t even know where to begin’ said Daria, unsure if she wanted Tilly’s help or not and knowing she wouldn’t get it anyway.

‘Now is not the time. I will tell you one thing, that might help and that is keep your finds together’ Tilly said and began to snigger.

‘At the moment, that doesn’t help at all, Tilly. You are as bad as Opa or does it make you even worse than him?’

‘Or do you mean better, Daria?’ said Tilly, ‘but it will become clear. Maybe some of what I must next tell you will help.’

‘I’m banking on it. And Tilly...’

‘The answer to your question is about to be revealed to you’ said Tilly.

‘But...’ said Daria, ‘no, never mind.’

‘You asked two questions, both to do with the package Gene received. Who was it from and what was inside. Do not forget there was more than one thing in that package and I do not know what the second thing was. Ah, you have only had your own thoughts about what the answers mean. Mosley and the deeds. I can hear the things you must have said with Alfie. Your little questions had big answers which could only have led to even bigger questions. And I am sure we could have spoken about it all many times over the weekend. But we chose to have fun instead. Ah, Gene would have approved of that.’

‘Oh, it was a lovely weekend. I’m so glad that I met everyone. It was all such fun. And I think it was just what I needed, as well. And they are my family, which I find amazing. My extended, new, wonderful family and I love it. Thank you for arranging everything, Tilly.’

‘I think we all needed it. And Gene said many times that he wanted all the family to meet you, to spend time with you while you were hearing his story. It was important to him that you experience how good a family we are. And we are. Ah, we fall out, we niggle each other as every family does. But at the end of the day, we love each other. We are nosy about each other because we want to all be involved. And how they loved Gene. He was so good with the grandchildren, no matter how old he was. Everyone was always so excited to see him, even though sometimes there were long gaps in between.’

‘Yes. That’s exactly how I used to feel’ said Daria.

‘And so now let us get back to Mosley and the deeds. As I said, the arrival of the package caused a stir. Oswald Mosley’s name and a stamp of the family crest blazed across the back of it. Who could fail to notice? And everyone gossiped. But it was not until many months after Gene came back to us after being taken that he told us about what was in the package. About how he was given a house by Oswald Mosley. Ah, isn’t that one of your questions, my flower angel?’

‘It certainly is. And how did Mosley know where Opa lived?’

‘Ah, again they are not simple answers. Do you remember how Gene used to say that there is no such thing as a coincidence? That all things happen for a reason, whether or not we find out what that was?’

‘Yes, but he was never fatalistic either. He always used to say that it was up to us how we saw things and what we did.’

’Exactly so. So let us go back to the bakers we visited this morning. The shop was the same as it looks today as when that fool Henri Plumiérè owned it. Do you remember I told you that he said people were scaremongering when Vichy was established? And I also told you that nothing is straightforward and certainly not then. Some people resisted Vichy because they thought Vichy collaborated with the Nazis, others collaborated with them and some supported Vichy but not Nazis. Some did things through conviction and others through fear. It was that fear that drove the foolish baker, fear that drove him to collaborate with Vichy. But it was not that simple either. The Nazi’s had people spying on Vichy to monitor their loyalty, Vichy had spies in Nazi camps to make sure they knew Nazi plans. Blackshirts had spies amongst Nazis and Vichy. And even though Oswald Mosley was under house arrest or in prison for most of the war, he still had his ways of finding out what was going on and influencing it. Of that we can be sure. For how a rich person experiences prison will always be different to a poor one.

’Ah, how paranoia is driven by fear. Never knowing who to trust, never knowing if what you heard was true, never knowing which people were really your friends. And so Plumiérè spied on Ayen and other towns around for Vichy. Now, Plumiérè had become quite a wealthy man. He had accumulated quite a lot of money for he was an astute business man and no doubt he had added to his fortune through the black market. And he was an arrogant man too. He had befriended some Blackshirts when they were invited to Vichy, when Vichy had abandoned its facade of being independent from the Nazis. Ah, and how he showed off his wealth.

’Then things started to collapse and the Nazis and all their sympathisers realised that opposition was too great for them to win. Ah, but how can we even speak of winning or losing wars? Nobody wins, things just change and sometimes the end result is better than what was before. But we all know that when so much blood is spilt, it cannot be that simple.

’Then, so close to the end of the war, Plumiérè went to England. Oh, he was very open about going. Even bragging about it but being secretive about his reasons. He made himself out to be very big, very important. We all thought he was mad to risk travelling, especially as we could not see why on earth he should go. And it was Dareau who told us why. Not the one we met today, but his father. When Gene was taken from us that terrible night, Dareau also said that another man would have been taken if he hadn’t already ran. And that was Plumiérè. He said that Gene knew that Plumiérè was a Vichy collaborator. That they had worked together.

‘Ah, remember Daria. Dareau was important to the resistance and somehow he had made important connections. Dareau had a sharp intelligence. Were it not for Bonner, he could have been a great man. But we all make choices. And it was many months after Gene’s return and after Gene had been to see him, that mother and I bumped into him one day. We had been out walking to collect berries and mushrooms and mother spotted him running towards her. She squeezed my hand so tight, I knew she must have been hoping he was coming to reconcile things with her. We had not seen him for many, many weeks and she must have been convinced that he had had time enough to realise Gene had been innocent. But no. Oh, he was excited and he waved a letter around in mothers face, laughing and shouting “see, see, I was right”.’

Tilly paused and Daria reached for her hand. She could see how difficult it was getting for Tilly, again. And it hurt Daria to see her that way.

‘Would you like a drink, Tilly? And one of those cakes we bought?’

‘Perfect, my little flower angel. I would like a hot chocolate, the rain is going to make it chilly. Would you get them please? I want to talk to Alfie.’

‘Oh’ said Daria, not sure what she felt about a discussion about her when she wouldn’t be able to understand. She also peered out of the window at white, fluffy clouds in a blue sky. She pulled a face at Alfie and they both shrugged their shoulders.

‘Ah, Daria. You know you can trust Tilly. And no doubt this very handsome man will tell you later, anyway. But it is not a secret. It is just something for him.’

So Daria made hot chocolates and put the cakes on plates and just as she was about to sit down, dark clouds rapidly gathered and a heavy rain began.

‘What a woman you are, Tilly. Oh, by the way, have you two finished talking about me?’ Daria couldn’t help grinning as she put on her very best “I am offended” voice, ‘and yes, I know not to ask what it was about.’

‘Ah, Gene was right when he said you were a funny woman’ said Tilly.

‘Did he?’ Daria was surprised.

‘Oh, yes. A woman with a huge sense of humour. Gene was not wrong.’

They all sat in silence, drinking and eating. Daria and Alfie just waiting until Tilly was ready to begin again. Alfie touched Daria’s hand.

‘It’s ok. Nothing horrible’ he said quietly.

‘My flower angel knows that’ said Tilly, even though he had not translated, ‘I could tell your whispers were comforting. You cannot fool an old woman, Alfie.’

Alfie looked unsure as to whether or not Tilly heard his protestations about her comment above her giggling. So he gave up.

’So. Dareau did not show us the letter, he just kept waving it around, but he told us it was from a former Resistance member who had gone to England. This man thought Dareau would be interested in what he had found out, but it would cost him a lot of money. Mother asked him how could he trust information he had to pay for? How do you trust mercenaries? But Dareau insisted it was the truth and therefore it was worth it. And the contents of the letter probably were true. But does one truth inevitably lead to another? Does one truth determine a whole reality? Think about that, my little flower angel.

’Dareau told us what he had found out. He said that when Plumiérè went to England, he had ingratiated himself with the Mosley family, flashing money around with promises to help with the funding for Mosley’s new fascist party. Ah, Plumiérè wanted power and position and he wanted it badly. He gave money and property to Mosley, believing Mosley’s lies about securing an office for him. But Plumiérè was a bigger idiot than we had ever imagined. Ah, don’t they say that every fool is pleased with his own folly? Did Plumiérè think it through? Mosley was part of the aristocracy and proud of it. What would he want with a baker from Ayen? Except what he could get out of him. Nobody ever found out what happened to Plumiérè, except that he never had any sort of position in any of Mosley’s organisations.

’And so back once more to Adam for just a little while, the boy of the caves whom Gene came to care for and who nicknamed him Opa. Adam, who turned out to be Oswald Mosley’s nephew. Ah, yet Gene always said that even if he had known who Adam was, he could not have treated him any differently. Gene saw a lot of himself in Adam. A certain loneliness in being away from home and family, a curiosity about how the world worked and a determination not to be beaten by circumstance. Gene refused to have his memories of Adam tainted by his family.

’It was through Plumiérè’s blabbing about how successful he was, about his houses and his money and his business and the people of Ayen, that he told of how a man who lived there had been nicknamed Opa, even though he was so young. Of course, Adam had told Mosley about the man who had rescued him, who had saved his life and so no doubt, Adam also spoke about how kind Gene must have been.’

’Are you saying that Plumiérè owned Opa’s house? That that’s how he got it?’ said Daria, feeling incredulous about what she was hearing.

’Yes, flower angel. Plumiérè gave it to Mosley, thinking he would sell it to help fund that ridiculous party. But Mosley did not. Instead he gave it to Gene. As a reward, as a thank you. Can you imagine how furious Plumiérè would have been, if he had known? So, Plumiérè’s arrogance gave mother her final home before Opa lived there. He had given her a real security. And now, it is yours.’

‘Oh god, I can see how Dareau would see that as proof of Opa being a collaborator.’

‘Ah, yes. But mother told him it was only proof of gratitude. Nothing more. But Dareau only laughed. He walked away, laughing.’

‘So if Opa had not been so caring about Adam or if he had been given a different assignment, he might never have been kidnapped? So none of this would have happened’ said Daria with a deep intake of breath, ‘oh my god.’

’Ah, there can be many, many if’s here. If Adam had not nicknamed him Opa, if Plumiérè had not been a collaborator, if Dareau’s resistance friend in England had not been in the right place at the right time to find out those things. Or Gene might have been taken anyway. Who is to know such things?’

‘Yes, you’re right, Tilly. But it’s just too ridiculous that Opa’s kindness led to his kidnap.’

‘And yet you are right too. Do not think that we have not all asked ourselves those very questions. And there are no answers. Gene said it was not the way to think about it. That it was the future that mattered. Ah, but here you are, Daria. Right in the middle of his past. So, maybe he wasn’t always right’ and Tilly grinned.

‘And I am glad that I am. I’m glad I’m here. But if it hadn’t have happened, I wonder when we would have met?’

‘Ah, we probably would have known each other all along. For what would there have been for Pearl to say to you? What could Dareau have told her? And didn’t Gene say in his letter how you were a part of his life that was free from accusations? That was important, the most important thing to him. Just think about what happened with Dareau today. People in small places can have long memories.’

‘Yes, I understand. But what a shame. God, so many things seem to be a shame.’

‘But that is not the way to look at it, my little flower angel. We have the now and we have the future. Isn’t that important?’ Tilly’s voice oozed concern and care.

‘Yes. Again you’re right’ and she took the offered hanky from Alfie as she realised she was crying, ‘it’s just sad. So much is sad.’

She blew her nose while Tilly stroked her hair. Then she took a deep breath.

‘I think I feel exhausted by it all. But somehow, I think I’ve made up my mind as well. Not that I hadn’t before. I always knew, even when I wasn’t sure. About Opa, I mean. It’s sort of, in case I didn’t know, then I do now’ she said. And then she spotted the two baffled faces looking at her, ‘that didn’t make sense at all, did it?’

‘Not sure, actually. Hard to tell really. Exhaustion can do that, you know’ said Alfie, raising his eyebrows and grinning at her.

‘What I mean is, that somehow hearing about how Opa got the house seems to absolutely make him innocent. I know it should be the opposite, as Dareau thought. But Opa said that he didn’t know who Adam was. That Adam was secretive about himself and never spoke about his family. So, how could Opa know? That’s the crucial bit. Surely it was the Mosley connection that brought about the accusation. But then if we don’t believe Opa about that, we can’t believe anything about anything.’

Daria paused while Alfie translated. Tilly nodded and smiled.

‘So although you are right, Tilly, there are a thousand ifs, but fundamentally if Opa hadn’t shown such kind-heartedness and real humanity towards a small boy, so many things would have been different. But that was Opa. Through and through.’

‘You know, what you said about him not knowing who Adam was, makes perfect sense’ said Alfie, ‘it is the lynch pin. What’s wrong?’

Daria was frowning.

‘But if we can tell Opa’s innocence by that, why the clue with the letter? Why did he say, the final clue?’

‘Ah, maybe he had underestimated how clever you are, Daria. Or maybe he wanted to add a final something. We shall find out’ said Tilly. Then she suddenly stood up, ‘but now you both shall go for we have been sitting and talking for hours. The rain has stopped so I must be off to Ila’s. Take the food we bought today. I will see you both in the morning and I hope you two find time to work out the clue.’

Tilly giggled as Alfie translated and apologised.

‘I feel I have to say sorry every time she says something like that.’

‘And I will keep saying that there is no need. So, Tilly. We are dismissed?’

‘Ah, how can you tease an old woman’ said Tilly, grinning.

So after kisses and hugs, Daria and Alfie left and walked back to Daria’s.

‘I didn’t realise how long we’d been sitting there. And I didn’t realise we’d bought all that food just for us to take back. She is hilarious. And abrupt’ said Alfie.

‘I know. I think I thought we’d be eating there. I can’t remember if anything was said about it though.’

‘No, nor me. But now I have the chance, I’d love to cook for us this evening.’

‘Are you sure? That would be lovely.’

‘Why don’t you have a long soak in the bath while I get some food ready? Or shall we go for a walk first?’

‘Oh yes. That would be lovely. All of those ideas in that order. Then we can look at the clue after dinner. I’d like that.’

*

Over the next couple of days, Daria felt as if a great weight had been lifted and she relaxed as she hadn’t really done since her arrival in France. The walk, the dinner, examining the clue and then the breakfast with Alfie had added to her sense of well-being. Daria had asked him about the conversation he had had with Tilly, when she had been making hot chocolate. According to Alfie, Tilly had questioned him about how long he was intending to stay in France and whether or not he had ever had children or a wife. No comments were made by Tilly, she just had wanted facts.

‘Do you think you were being asked what your intentions towards me are?’ Daria had said, feeling a little embarrassed yet amused at the same time.

‘Well, she didn’t ask about my work or spare time or anything else.’

‘And, Alfie, are you keeping anything from me? I know sometimes you’re unsure as to whether translate some of her more outrageous things’ Daria thought he shuffled in his chair a bit, ‘look, tell me what she says. How else can I really know her?’

‘Ok. She did remind me about what you said when we were having coffee in Ayen. Just before we met Dareau. But again, she made no comments and didn’t want any from me either.’

His eyes met hers and Daria wasn’t sure who looked the most self-conscious. Daria felt as if she was fighting blushing and then she realised the awkwardness he must have felt. Not only when Tilly reminded him of what she’d said, but also because he’d had to repeat it to her. A smile slowly broke out on her face and soon they were caught up in each other’s laughter.

Daria and Alfie were also no closer to understanding Opa’s clue, but it didn’t seem to matter as much. Daria had the most important answers she wanted. She had been growing used to a sense of urgency in wanting to know what Tilly was going to tell her next and even during her weekend with the family, she’d retained that feeling albeit to varying degrees.

So although the clue mattered and she was intrigued by it, it wasn’t filling her head and determining her thoughts and actions. Alfie had returned to work and Daria spent a couple of days with Ila and Tilly discovering the local area and meeting neighbours. She had spent a delightful morning alone with Tilly, walking along the riverbank that divided Ayen. Daria was never too sure how, but her French certainly improved that day. Although she recognised that she was still very much at a beginners level, Alfie had been right when he told her that being immersed in the language would speed the process up. Daria found she was also feeling quite driven to learn and Tilly was certainly enthusiastic whenever she got things right.

Daria had also spent an afternoon alone. Although Tilly had wanted to take her to her boules group, Daria felt she wanted to get to know Opa’s house a little better. Until then, she hadn’t really looked at the books or seen if she wanted to rearrange any rooms and change anything. She wanted to put her personal stamp on the house, especially as she was beginning to feel that it was hers. So she enjoyed rummaging round and later cooking for herself. She’d looked at all the books in the living room and was surprised at the variety and a little puzzled at the content of some. But as books in French, English and German filled the shelves, Daria wondered if that was because the house had been a summer let. Rather than them all belonging to Opa, as she had first assumed.

She also spoke to her sons and her best friends, and almost felt homesick. Although it still hadn’t been that long since she’d actually seen them, so much had happened that it seemed as if time had taken on a completely different meaning. Alfie had also phoned a couple of times and although she’d loved the last couple of days, she realised she missed him. And she hoped that his calls meant it was reciprocated.

Later that evening, she found her mind wondering to the clue. She hadn’t thought about it at all that day. In fact, it hadn’t really occurred to her since she and Alfie had tried to decipher it. She smiled at how their attempts had degenerated very quickly into utter nonsense. And she realised that her relationship with him, although it felt a bit ambiguous, was very special to her. They hadn’t spoken about whether or not they actually had a relationship, but Daria felt that it was of equal importance to both of them.

Then she remembered what Tilly had said about keeping her finds together and realised that Tilly must mean the trunk, the deeds and the painting, as well as the letter and clue. Not really knowing what else to do, she sat at the kitchen table with the painting propped up against the fruit bowl and everything else spread out around her. And she sat and stared at it all, muttering the first part of the clue again and again.

‘It’s fourth along; it’s pointed out; when fruit reflects in eyes.’

Her eyes flitted over everything while she spoke, but nothing made sense. Then she remembered another thing Tilly had said. Tilly had asked her to think about why Opa had painted the picture in the first place. She stared at it, describing out loud everything she saw. Then it hit her.

‘It’s Ila’ she shouted ‘Ila is pointing to a brick that’s fourth along. Of course. And if I stand and look at that brick, as it’s near the window, the fruit from the trees will be reflected in my eyes. That’s got to be it. What’s the next part?’

Daria went and stood in front of the plainly visible brick next to the window and realised she had to take it out.

‘First chip away; then wobble out and there within it lies. Of course, something must be hidden behind’ she said, her heart beginning to race, ‘ok, first things first. How do you remove a brick?’

She scoured around the kitchen and then remembered seeing an old tool box under the stairs. She got a screwdriver and very carefully scraped the cement away from around the brick. She wasn’t sure what she expected, but the cement wasn’t very thick and she began to wedge the screwdriver into the gap to wobble the brick out. Just like Opa had said.

Then she gently pulled it out and placed it on the floor. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears as she peered into the space. It was too dark, so she slowly put her hand in. She felt something soft.

‘Oh god’ she whispered as she removed the object from its hiding place.

It seemed to be a folded piece of fabric and she carried it carefully back to the table. Daria just sat and stared at it. She felt totally baffled. Then memories of Tilly telling her how she had gained the nickname “flower angel” slowly emerged. Tilly had said that it was because Opa had thought she looked like an angel, lying asleep on a pillowcase embroidered with flowers. This fabric had embroidered flowers on it.

‘Opa said “love wraps it up”. God, could this be part of the pillowcase? So, what’s the “it”’

And, very gently, she unfolded the delicate fabric. But what she saw was the last thing she expected. In the palm of her hand, shrouded by the delicate fabric was a gold signet ring. She picked it up, it was heavier than it looked and because it was so large, she felt certain it was a mans.

She turned it over and saw a coat of arms on its face. The crest was certainly dramatic looking, covered with extravagant feathers and miners picks, and as she looked closely, she wondered if the crest was made of precious stones. Daria laid it on the table to look at the fabric more closely. She realised that, in fact, it was a whole pillowcase, of a size suitable for a small child. She held it to her cheek.

‘Love wraps it up’ she said, ‘the pillowcase. Fancy you keeping this, Opa.’

The she looked at the ring and frowned.

‘But what does the rest mean? And cleanses it; till time enough gets old. Maybe that last line means for eternity or something. But then what about the rest: it’s truth is plain; but it’s not mine; my glisten is not gold? Surely, gold must be the ring. But it’s truth?’

Then Daria remembered. Earlier that day she had looked at all the books and had discovered one about heraldry. She’d thought it a bit of an odd choice for Opa and wondered if it was there for the holiday people. She rushed to get it and sitting at the table once more, she scanned the pages for pictures of coats of arms. And as she looked, a slow realisation hit her. One that was confirmed when she saw the Mosley coat of arms. It was the same. And immediately the meaning of the clue fell into place.

‘It’s truth is plain. Well, that must mean that the ring came from Mosley. Then Opa says: but it’s not mine; my glisten is not gold. In other words, he was not a Mosley Blackshirt or a Nazi or a collaborator. So the ring was another gift. The second thing in the envelope that Tilly didn’t know about. But god, no wonder Opa didn’t want to show anyone.’

Daria peered closely at the ring, at the amount of stones that made up the coat of arms. The more she looked, the more she thought it had to be made of diamonds and rubies and the sheen on the black stones could make them black opals.

The ring brought out mixed emotions in her and as she examined it, she frowned. It certainly was finely crafted and must have been the work of a real expert. For that, Daria admired it. She also wondered if it would be worth a bit of money and wondered what she’d do, if it was. But what it stood for was a different matter and she felt an inclination to destroy it, to take it out of the world. And she wondered what on earth Opa had expected her to do with it. Then her frown lifted. And she laughed. And laughed until her sides ached and tears were streaming down her face.

‘Opa, you old gizzard. Even now, it’s not over. You’ve left me another thing to do. As if all this hadn’t been enough.’

Daria sat back and stared at the array of seemingly unconnected objects on the table before her. But what a story they told, what a life Opa must have led. And he was still entangling her within it. She thought about it all. Everything she’d heard, seen, felt and experienced. Then, she had a thought.

‘I’ve done it. I’ve solved the mystery of green trunk. Ha. Fancy that’ then she paused, ‘god, what now?’

She suddenly felt a million years away from the day she had discovered the trunk and she grinned at the conversations with Sandra and Amy about inheriting a ruin or a donkey farm. Then she thought about her sons and the new directions in all of their lives, all busy creating new roads in their new worlds. And she realised she could make choices. Yet again, Opa was giving her a choice. But this time she wasn’t afraid. Was she going to stay in France for a little longer? She still had most of her three months leave. Was she going to stop for longer than that? Or was she simply going to stop there. In her new house. With Tilly. And Alfie?

And she realised that she didn’t have to make a decision. Any sort of decision. Not yet. What was it Opa always said? When the universe closes a door on you, it always opens another. Sometimes to find it, you first have to trust it. And Daria liked that.

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