10 Strinburg Place
10 Strinburg Place was a period house set in a large garden surrounded by trees; once it was imposing and filled with laughter, now it stood unkempt and silent. Paul parked outside and turned to Amelia
“Can I see the will again?” She handed him the large envelope containing her grandfather’s will. He switched the engine off and skimmed through the pages.
“Took long enough to clear probate.”
“My cousins contested it.”
“‘I give, devise and bequest’……. left his savings and investments to your cousins; house and contents to you… and his bureau - ‘hope you cherish it… when you use it, think of me.’ Must be quite a piece.”
“Not from what I remember…,” but Paul wasn’t listening, he was still reading.
“Good grief! - your cousins did well – he was rolling in it.”
“His father owned a shop – a furriers. Probably how they bought this place.” Paul switched the radio off and handed the envelope back.
“The will doesn’t mention the diamond.”
“You’re forgetting grandma’s family were a bunch of crooks. Don’t know how her aunt acquired it; some dodgy means no doubt. As soon she got it, her kids started bickering over who’d inherit it, nearly broke the family up. They knew too much about each other, a bust up was risky. She decided none of them would have it.”
“She could’ve sold it.” Amelia put the envelope back in her rucksack.
“It’s a blue diamond, they’re rare; supposed to be worth mega bucks – you can’t sell them without provenance.”
“Why leave it to your grandmother?”
“She liked her. Could trust her to keep quiet about where it came from. Good call, Grandma was so secretive, we couldn’t even see it.”
“Not surprising with her background.”
“She was odd as well, and smoked. She smoked so much she went around with her own fog. And you could hear her coming a mile off, she walked heavily and dragged her foot; she wore a built-up boot.”
“Sounds a nightmare.”
“She didn’t trust anyone either, she hid the diamond in the house. She used to tell us: ‘if you lot get your hands on my diamond, I’ll come back and haunt you, see if I don’t, that thing’s bad news, I’m not having no squabbles over it, none of you are having it, so forget it.”
“Could have left it to your grandfather.”
“Wouldn’t help; anyway their marriage was rocky by then. They were a miss match, can’t see what they saw in each other.”
“How’d they get along?”
“When she was being difficult, grandpa’d go and do his cabinet making.”
Was he any good?”
“He thought so. Despite grandma’s moods, I liked coming here, it’s a great place for a child. We made dens, climbed trees, slept in tents, sailed boats on the pond. Grandpa told us stories; you’d have liked him. He read a lot…. talked about things Dad didn’t; he was special, I was fond of him, miss him still.”
“Can’t remember my grandparents.”
“They had a rough start. Their first son died in an accident. Dad said grandma doted on him. She held séances to contact him. Grandpa didn’t approve, they had rows about it. He wanted a divorce then; she wasn’t having any of it.” Paul took the keys out of the ignition,
“Which lamp do you want?”
“We came once, he’d nearly finished his bureau. When we were alone, he told me ‘your grandma’ll leave that diamond to some Dog’s home, I’ll be bound. If I had my way, you’d have it, you’re level headed for a young ‘un’. Then for some reason he didn’t finish it for a long time. He told me several times, ‘One day girl, that bureau’ll be yours, don’t part with it and don’t let anyone take it off you – promise me?’ Apparently, just when he did finish it, they had the row that ended their marriage. Then he left her.”
“And the diamond disappeared?”
“Grandma told the police he’d stolen it.”
“She said what?”
“Well, - she told them he’d stolen her jewellery. They found him in Leeds but didn’t prosecute him.”
“Do you think he stole it?”
“Don’t know – hope not.”
“How about the rest of your family?”
“Most were dead by then. Grandpa told the police grandma’s memory was bad and she hid things in the house and forgot where. Police told grandma what he said, that’s when she tore the place apart. Maybe she thought he’d found it and re hidden it to spite her.”
They picked up their ruck sacks.
“For some reason, Grandpa sent letters taunting her. Got nasty. She’d been ill for eons. Some specialist said her illness was terminal; she never could handle being ill. Think she’d gone loopy by then anyway, pushed her over the edge. Eventually she committed suicide.”
“In this house?”
“Guess so. Eventually grandpa heard she’d died. The house was in their joint names; he moved back. The first night he was here, something happened, he had a massive stroke; hadn’t even finished unpacking. He was in a terrible state, had to go into a nursing home where he died.” Amelia didn’t say any more.
“You all right love?” Paul put his arm around her shoulder. Amelia nodded. “Let’s look at this legacy of yours.”
The huge trees cast gloomy shadows over the house. The gate hung at an angle and the path was overgrown. A breeze blew leaves in swirls around them. Amelia opened the door, switched her lamp on and picked up the mail from the mat. The top letter was marked ‘urgent’ and was addresses to The Occupant. She opened it.
‘Dear home owner. We at Walcott Developments are urgently seeking properties like yours where we can build our luxury retirement apartments. Call us right away for an informal chat. You’ll be amazed at what we can offer…….’
“Vultures are gathering” she said, flicking the light switch. Nothing happened. Paul turned his lamp on as well, then Amelia took them on a tour of the ground floor. The house had large rooms, most were decorated with hideous floral wallpaper, some of which was peeling off the walls. The few pieces of furniture that remained was strewn about, some were piled in heaps. The kitchen had an uneven tiled floor and an assortment of obsolete equipment. They then went back to the first room and started to search through it carefully. After they’d nearly finished, Paul sat in thought.
“Have squatters been in? Most of the furniture’s wrecked?” He asked. Amelia shook her head.
“That was Grandma looking for the diamond. She could be a tenacious old bat and had a short fuse”
“She did this on her own? Wouldn’t like to have got in her way.”
They worked systematically, carefully inspecting each room and its contents. The only cupboard they couldn’t open was in the kitchen. Paul gave Amelia a hammer and chisel to prise it open. Just as Amelia started to open the door, Paul picked up a coat stand and pulled some wallpaper from the wall.
“What are you going to do with that?” She asked.
“Burn it, it’s got wood worm.”
“Goodness sake check it carefully.”
He took it to the garden and started a fire with other broken furniture. When he’d returned, Amelia had opened the cupboard and was reading a letter; it was addressed to her grandmother.
“Look at this,” she said reading it to Paul. “ … ‘Remembered where you hid your bauble yet my dear? No? Well keep looking…’” She put it back in its envelope and handed it to Paul. “Put this on the fire. I’m surprised at grandpa; they must have hated each other in the end.”
After they’d worked for several hours they stopped for a break. Amelia gazed out of the grubby window as she eat her sandwich.
“I used to climb that tree, got stuck up it once, it was ages before anyone came to get me down.” Paul glanced at the tree.
“Where have the carpets gone?”
“No idea, grandma must’ve taken them up.”
When they’d searched the ground floor, they went upstairs, their footsteps echoing on the bare boards. Amelia showed Paul the bedrooms. Garlands of cobwebs hung from light fittings and the window sills were sprinkled with dead flies. Amelia tried to open a bay window but the sash was broken. A skirting board had been ripped from the wall in the master bedroom. The second bedroom had a birds nest in the fireplace and black mould by the window. One end of the curtain rail had come away from the wall and the curtains hung in a heap on the floor. They went into one room that was in a better state than most.
“This would make a lovely nursery.” Paul didn’t answer.
They went further down the passage, Amelia opened another door.
“This was grandpa’s room,” A floor board by the fireplace had been pulled up and thrown aside. There was a huge book case against one wall, the books had been strewn around the floor. Shelves had been fitted to an end wall, some of which still held some books and a broken pair of glasses.
The bureau was beside the window. Paul put his lamp on a shelf besides an open Bible.
“This your bureau?”
“Yes.” Paul heaved it into the room. A large spider ran up the wall. The smell of damp permeated the room; Amelia opened the window. Paul turned and looked at her.
“Why did he say this was special? The proportions don’t even look right.” He held a lamp closer to it. “And he was no French polisher, that’s for sure.” Paul sat on the only chair and turned to Amelia. “Look love, I know you dream of living here, but this place needs a fortune spent on it. Its way beyond us and this bureau - well it’s just ghastly.”
“I know, but Grandpa wanted me to have it; I’d like to have something of his.”
“We’re struggling with the flat mortgage as it is, we can’t borrow more to do this up.”
“Don’t see why not. We could sell the flat, move in here, then do it up.”
“For heaven’s sake love, we haven’t any equity in the flat and…..
“And whose fault is that?”
“Oh, for goodness sake – don’t bring that up again. This place needs a load of major work, it’ll cost a fortune. We can’t live here while that’s going on.”
“Paul, this is a proper family home. I’m sick of the flat, we can’t have children there; it’s like living in a broom cupboard. Feels like our lives are on hold.” Paul got up and walked around the room.
“How about this: find the diamond, sell it, do this place up, sell the flat, pay off the mortgage. Then we’ll have a tidy asset to borrow against. We’ll be well set up. What do you reckon?” Amelia gave him a blank look. “And if we can’t find it, we’ll talk to somebody like Walcott. Maybe a developer would build houses here and we can do a deal with them – and have one.”
Amelia was quiet for a while as she considered Paul’s idea.
“Paul, I’m not letting this house slip through our fingers in another hare-brained scheme. Anyway, it’ll take two or three years before the new houses are built. You know what planning permission’s like. We could have this place done up in a few months. My clock’s ticking - I want a family – is that too much to ask?” Paul didn’t answer the question, he just said:
“No one gets every deal right.”
Amelia picked a copy of Ulysses from the floor and put it on a shelf.
“We’ll find the diamond, see what its worth before we do anything else.”
“It’s a once in a lifetime’s chance….”
“That’s why we’re not rushing it.”
Paul changed the subject.
“A lot of the furniture’s wrecked, the rest looks like junk, let’s clear it out.”
“Some of it might be ok.”
“All right; he said emphatically. “If any of its worth keeping, let’s put it the lounge then. I’ll put the rest on the bonfire. Can you find the rest of your grandfather’s tools, then we’ll check over the bureau.”
When they’d searched all the rooms on the first two floors, the only place left was the attic. As neither wanted to go there alone, they went together. The entrance was down a long passage and up a steep staircase. The door at the top was stiff and screeched when Paul opened it. The attic was empty except for a wasp’s nest in a corner and an empty packing case under a beam. Paul went to a corner.
“Mould.” He muttered. “And no insulation.”
The rest of the roof space didn’t take long to inspect. As Paul searched, Amelia stayed near the door. She shivered and wrapped her jacket around her.
“Can we go now, I don’t like it up here?” Paul followed her to the stairs and slammed the door shut behind him. When they’d reached the study again Amelia poured herself another coffee.
“Out of curiosity, how did your grandmother commit suicide?”
“Hung herself.” It didn’t seem appropriate to say more, so Paul picked up some more books from the floor until Amelia had regained her colour.
“We’ve looked everywhere for the diamond, you sure there’s nowhere else?”
“Only the garden.”
“We’ve no chance of finding it if it’s there. Look, I’ve been thinking. Your grandfather seemed to be fonder of you than of your cousins.”
“Look at how much he left them, a load more than this place’s worth.”
“Haven’t thought of that.”
“And your cousins weren’t satisfied with that, they contested the will, which means they think the diamond’s in the house.”
“Of course, that’s why we’re looking for it.”
“You’ve missed the point. If he intended you to have it, he could’ve sent you a note telling you where it is, he wouldn’t risk you not being able to find it. Let’s face it, your grandma couldn’t find it and we’ve looked and we can’t. Are we missing something? He wanted you to have the bureau and the diamond; the odds are, it’s in the one thing he insisted you keep – his bureau; shall we take it downstairs?” Amelia shrugged her shoulders.
“Might as well.” They took an end each.
The sun was now behind the trees and dusk was setting in. The fire was well alight in the garden. As soon as they tried to move the bureau, the fire spat manic showers of sparks sending shadows flickering across the wall. And there was an eerie noise in the attic. Amelia jumped. They both froze.
“Did you close the attic door?”
“Of course I did.”
“Paul – something’s up there!” They both held their breath and listened. Then the sound started again and with disturbing resolve, shuffled and thumped unsteadily across the floor. “It’s going towards the door!”
Paul snatched up the poker in one hand and a lamp in the other.
“Get that lamp, let’s see what it is – come on.”
“Are you mad? I’m not going up there?” Amelia said, stepping back against the wall.
“If something’s up there, I’m not waiting for it to come down here - and that’s final. Anyway the attic’s empty – we checked it, didn’t we? Come on.”
Not wanting to be left alone, Amelia grabbed his arm and they raced down the passage and stopped at the bottom of the stairs. He turned to her. “You ok?” She replied with an uncertain nod, then they started to cautiously creep up the stairs. They’d reached half way when Amelia wrenched Pauls’ arm back.
“Look! The door’s open!” They stood looking at each other for a few seconds, then Paul took a deep breath and shook her hand free, rushed up, kicked the door wide open and with the poker raised, charged in. Amelia followed. The attic was empty. Void. No one was there. It was as they saw it earlier. They searched frantically over and over until they were satisfied they really were alone, then after carefully closing the door behind them, they returned to the study.
“Paul, I’m getting a nasty feeling about this place.”
“Me too.” Paul pointed to the bureau. “Let’s get this thing down stairs, then lock up and come back tomorrow.”
But try as they could, they couldn’t get the bureau down the stairs, so they pulled it back into the study. Paul poured them the last of the coffee and thought for a moment.
“Look, if the diamond’s in the bureau, it’s got to be possible to find it. Give me that tape, let’s have another look. Amelia sat on the chair and drank her coffee as Paul took the drawers out, inspected them and put them in a pile against the wall. He took the copy of Ulysses from the book shelf and as he measured the bureau, inside and out, he wrote the measurements on the fly leaf. After a few minutes, he turned to Amelia.
“That’s odd, all the joints are dove tailed with a peg glued through them.”
“That’s not necessary; the only way you’d get this apart is to break it up, why’d he do that?” He took Ulysses and studied his measurements. After a few scribbled calculations, he did a little jig.
“What?” Amelia demanded. “What?”
“There’s something in the middle. It’s quite small and I can’t find a way into it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely - it looks like a cube of some sort, can’t see any reason for it to be there, or….or – it’s a box. A small box!” Right love - it’s your call. What do you want to do? If the stone’s in the box thing and we break the bureau up to get at it, we could have it professionally restored and keep it as a memento. If it’s not inside, your grandfather’s playing a sick joke on you, so what the heck, we just burn the thing. What do you reckon?” Amelia snatched the book from Paul and read his calculations.
“You sure you haven’t made a mistake, you know what you’re like?” Paul grabbed the tape and getting on his knees, re measured, calling out the measurements as he went. Amelia checked them off. When he’d finished, he looked at her quizzically. “Ok,” she said, “they’re the same”.
“Thank you - thank you very much.” He said in mock agitation. “So?” Amelia fidgeted with the zip on her jacket.
“I’m not sure, I’d like to think about it.” The second she said that the wind blew and the open window rattled. Before Paul could say a word, Amelia raised her hand to stop him. “Did you hear that?”
“Yes, the window rattled.”
“No, not that, didn’t you hear that squeaking sound upstairs?”
“No.” Paul replied, listening intently again. “Get a grip, it’s an old house. There’s no one here except us. You know that, don’t you?” She looked at him attentively.
“Do I?” She turned all three lamp fully up. “Paul - I want to get out of here - now. For heaven’s sake break the thing open and let’s go.”
Paul took the rip saw and rendered the bureau to pieces, eventually removing a small wooden cube from its centre. It was a box, but it didn’t have a lid, the sides were glued down. He shook it, then carefully cut one end off.
“There you go love,” he said pushing the dismembered bureau aside with his foot, “You open it – positive thoughts now!”
They brought the lamps closer, Paul crossed his fingers and Amelia tipped the box up. Out slid a piece of folded paper. She held the box to the light, there was nothing else in it. She unfolded the paper.
“It’s a note from grandpa.” Amelia read in silence.
“What does it say for heaven’s sake?” She didn’t reply. A lone tear trickled down her face as she handed it to him. He read aloud.
If you are reading this, I’m deeply disappointed in you. I expected better. It means you have destroyed my bureau to find grandma’s diamond. Well, it isn’t here. I appointed a company of solicitors to keep it safe. I won’t tell you who they are, or where they are. Had you kept my bureau for just six months, they would have contacted you, inspected it and given you the stone to do with as you wished. However, by destroying it, you have forfeited the diamond, it will now go to the dog’s home as your grandmother wished. I made the bureau so it can’t be mended so don’t waste your time trying to fool the solicitors. I hope you learn well from this lesson. Farewell my dear. Grandpa.”
As he read, the fire died down and the house seemed to relax and be at peace. The only sound was of Amelia sobbing. She took Walcott’s letter from her rucksack and pushed it into Paul’s hand.
“Let them have it.” She said, then walked past the bureau and out of the room.
. . . . . . .
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