The attic was bare except for one cardboard box covered by a dusty red blanket. Brad removed the blanket slowly, trying not to stir the dust. Not succeeding, he coughed.
The contents of the box – mostly letters but also a journal or two, pictures and other paraphernalia – were slightly puzzling to Brad. Why is this the only thing in the attic? Brad thought.
Everything else of value, whether personal or monetary, had been mostly in the master bedroom and living room. The kitchen and other bedrooms were basically bare, and except for this one box so was the attic.
Brad carried the box down two flights of stairs to the living room where James was again talking on his cell phone. Groaning, James said, “All right. Thanks. Bye.”
After closing his phone, he said, “The only truck I could find for tomorrow is for 100 dollars. My dad told me about the time when you could get a UHAUL for 20 dollars. I hate inflation.”
Brad ignored James’ irritation. “The only thing I found in the attic was this box. Probably nothing to sell, but it has letters and journals. You could learn about that part of the family history you are missing.”
James didn’t acknowledge his friend. “Of course, renting a truck for $20 was probably only in the city … not in rural country and only for one day.”
“Did you hear me?” Brad interrupted.
James exhaled, trying to forget his frustration. “Okay, that’s good – letters and journals” After taking a deep breathe, he continued, “Let’s look through it now, so I can get these antiques off my mind for a while.”
Brad took the box to the kitchen and placed it on the table in the middle of the room. James sat down and started flipping through the materials. He pulled an envelope out and opened the letter. “I think that this was written by my great great great-grandmother.”
“That,” Brad said, “ought to be interesting.”
James looked at a couple of other letters and then said, “It looks like there are several here written by her. Maybe this will tell where the money came from.”
He picked up one of the journals. It had a softbound brown cover with stationary like pages, which had turned yellow over the years. He carefully flipped through a couple of the pages, barely noticing their contents.
When he got to the center of the book, an emerald colored crystal with a slender cut fell out of the book and onto the table. The sound of it hitting the wood table startled Brad, who had been reading one of the letters.
“What’s that?” Brad asked.
“I don’t know,” James replied. “It was lodged in the middle of the book.”
Brad picked it up to examine it closer. With the crystal in his palm, he turned his hand back and forth, and the crystal caught a glint of sunlight from the window.
Behind them on the wall a cloudy, distorted image was projected. James noticed the image and said, “Well, it probably isn’t worth a great deal. It can’t even reflect light very well.”
Brad agreed and placed it back on the table. Neither one of them gave the crystal a second thought.
“Can I see the journal?” Brad asked.
James handed the journal over. Brad opened to the first page and began reading to himself. After just a second or so, he said, “That’s interesting. There is a one-line entry signed by a J.D. Aren’t those your initials?”
“Let me see that.” James had put the second journal from the box down on the table. After getting the entry in front of him, he read out loud, “When in Rhome, do as Holmes would do. J.D. March 3, 1895.”
“Aren’t those your initials?” Brad repeated.
“Yeah, and I don’t know of another J.D. in the family. And, I think the family tree goes back this far, if I can remember correctly.”
“You’ll have to check to be sure. That’s 140 years ago. Could have been a cousin or an uncle. Maybe a family member you didn’t know about previously.”
“Perhaps,” James said with a little uncertainty in his voice. “Of course, I guess it doesn’t have to be a family member at all.”
For another hour or so, the two of them read through some of the letters and the two journals. At one point, James said, “The name Thomas Arnold has showed up several times.”
“Yeah, I know,” Brad responded with a blank stare. “Listen to this: ‘February 5, 1905. Mr. Arnold’s business has been doing well the last few months. I still find it hard to believe that he named the Miller family as his partners. But, of course, that was part of his instructions from J.D. ten years ago. Thinking back upon those times brings fond memories to the fore. Of course, J.D. never told us what his real name was – just his initials. And, I don’t think we ever learned the names of his traveling companions either.’”
While thinking about the entry that Brad had just read, James recalled the note written in J.D.’s own hand. “That sounds like J.D. wasn’t a family member, at least not one she knew of.”
James picked up the first journal again and looked at the note on the first page. He noticed something odd about the note, but the thought was so preposterous that he promptly shoved it aside.
“It seems like we have a mystery on our hands,” James continued. “Who is this J.D.? What is his connection with Thomas Arnold, and why did he instruct Thomas to include the Miller family in his business?”