Destiny’s Portrait—George Davis
I was sitting at a table in the Bickford Inn eating my breakfast when the door opened and a funny-looking stranger entered. He was no more than five-five and probably weighed less than one-hundred pounds, soaking wet. He came over to where I was seated.
“Good morning, Sir,” he said, a wide smile on his ruddy face.
“Good morning,” I said. Extending my hand, “My name is Damien Foster.”
“Benjamin Grand, not Grande as in the river.”
“Nice to meet you, Benjamin. I can call you Benjamin can I not?”
“Yes, that’s the name I go by most of the time. Some call me, Ben. I don’t much care for that nickname.”
“What brings you to Bickford, Benjamin?”
“I’m on a quest to find something.”
“What, may I ask are you looking for, Benjamin?”
“My ancestor, Benjamin Arthur Nichols, was born in this town over one hundred years ago. It is said, he left a fortune buried in his homestead.”
“Do you know which house he was born in, Benjamin?”
“All I know is he built a house on…” He pulled out a notebook, turned two or three pages. “Yes, here it is, Mulberry Lane.”
“I live on Mulberry Lane. Do you know which house it is?”
“No, except I was told it was a large gray Victorian home.”
“That’s funny. My house is Victorian, and it is gray,” I said. “Wait a minute, did you say, Nichols?”
“Yes, Benjamin Nichols, my namesake.”
“That’s my house. I bought it four years ago when I first came to Bickford from Portland.”
“That’s wonderful,” he said, a broader smile lit up his face. “May I join you?”
“By all means. Please sit down, Benjamin,” I said, pointing to a chair across from where I sat.
“This is quite a coincidence, Mr. Foster.”
“I’m sorry. Damien. I mean, of all the people I shall meet in this town. I run into the one person I need to talk to.”
“Well, if you mean you want my permission to look for your treasure in my house. I am only too happy for your company, Benjamin.” After all, wasn’t I trained as a hospitality person when I retired from Happy Haven Rest Home?
“Thank you, Damien. I feel like I’m home at last.”
Benjamin followed me home in his 1950 Ford sedan. His automobile somehow seemed to fit his personality. He wore a weather-beaten felt hat, the same as Sam Spade wore in The Maltese Falcon.
“You have a nice home here, Damien. You’ve left it in the Victorian motif.”
“Yes, I guess I live mostly in the past, Benjamin.”
“Let me ask you a question, Damien. “Do you ever store anything in the attic?”
“I have a few old things in a trunk up there. Can you believe I’ve only been in my attic once? The time I put that old trunk up there.”
“Do you mind if I take a look in your attic?”
“No, I don’t mind. You won’t care if I don’t go with you?”
“No, but why?”
“Old attics and cellars give me creeps. You see. I believe in ghosts, and I have a feeling, there is one in my attic.”
“Oh, ghosts don’t bother me. I’m not afraid of them. I think they are more frightened by me than I am of them.”
Benjamin went up the stairs as I watched him open the attic door and ascend up the rickety stairs, the boards creaking as he went.
Two hours passed, and I hadn’t heard a sound from the attic. I didn’t want to go up there, but I was afraid something might have happened to Benjamin.
“Hello, Benjamin, are you up here?”
“Yes, over in the corner near the chimney, Damien.” He stood up as I walked over to where he was going through an old chest. Not the one I put up here when I moved in eight years ago. This one looked more like an old sea captain’s chest, with leather straps and brass fittings.
“Have you had any luck, Benjamin?”
“Not so far. I have looked everywhere. This chest is my last hope.” He pulled the chest’s cover up, and peered inside. The dust made him appear ethereal.
“I never noticed this old trunk when I brought my chest up here, eight years ago.”
“This has got to be where the treasure is, Damien. I’ll unload it and maybe the booty is under all these old moth-eaten old uniforms.” He removed everything in the chest, and under the uniforms and old papers was a small wooden chest. He grabbed it with a death grip, his eyes lighted up like a neon sign. “Here it is, Damien,” he said, opening the small box.
What was inside seemed to startle Benjamin as he stared at me. “It’s only got a small piece of paper.”
“Read it, Benjamin.”
“I can’t. Will you open it and read the note to me, Damien?” I took the note, opened it and read: Whoever finds this message will soon be a very rich person. Follow my instructions and you will find the treasure I hid in this house.
“What does this all mean, Damien?”
“Well, my great-great uncle buried his treasure somewhere in this house, Damien.”
“I didn’t mind you going through my attic, but digging in my home, I have to say, no.”
“But Damien there will be enough dollars to build you a new home. I plan on sharing the loot with you.”
“I don’t want a new home. I bought this old Victorian mansion for its antiquity, Benjamin, and I can’t have it destroyed looking for something you may never find.”
“Please, Damien. I promise I will not bring damage to your home. If the cellar has a dirt floor, I will dig it up, and replace the dirt after I find the valuables.” I reluctantly said, yes, not sure how it would all turn out. I told him he could dig in the cellar as long as he left it as he found it.
Two weeks later, Benjamin had finished digging in the cellar. His efforts went unrewarded. He did put the dirt back, and cleaned the dust from the walls.
“I’m sorry for all this, Damien. I didn’t find a thing down there. I shall give up now. It was my one last hope at becoming a rich man. I am going back home.”
“Where is your home, Benjamin?”
“You are a long way from home. I wish you the best of luck, Benjamin.”
“Thank you, Damien for everything, and I’m sorry to have disrupted your life all these weeks.”
I watched as Benjamin got in his Ford sedan and drive off out of the town.
It was three weeks later I got a letter from a woman in California, Benjamin’s sister. “Dear Mr. Foster. It is with sadness I tell you. My brother Benjamin Grand passed away last week of lung cancer. He told me of his venture in your town, and how much he appreciated your hospitality. She ended it with a PS: Benjamin has been chasing dreams his entire life. He did say you would understand. I quote: Tell Damien. I think I have finally figured it all out. I noticed you had a picture of Abraham Lincoln on your living room wall. If it was there when you bought the house, I would suggest you take it out of the frame. I don’t know what he meant by this, Mr. Foster, but I am passing it on to you. Thank you for being so kind to my brother. Sincerely, Ethel Passmore.
I took down the picture of the Civil War president. A cursory look produced nothing until I removed the back. A large envelope fell to the floor. What could this be? I opened it slowly, my curiosity at its peak. I pulled another envelope from the large wrapper. As I was about to open it, the doorbell rang.
“Good morning, sir. My name is Henry Dole. I wonder if you might spare me a few minutes of your time.”
“What is it you want to sell me?”
“Oh no, sir. I am not selling anything. I am here to offer to buy your home.”
“Sorry, my home is not for sale.”
“I am authorized to offer you five-hundred-thousand dollars.” That was quite an offer since I only paid, one-hundred and eighty thousand for it.
“Come in,” I said. He sat down his brief case and stood looking over the furnishings as though looking for something special.
“Thank you, sir.”
“My name is, Damien Foster, Dole.”
“You may call me, Hank.” Hank opened his case and pulled out several pages and laid them on the coffee table. “These are the papers I need you to sign, Mr. Foster.”
“I shall need them for a day or two while my attorney looks over the paperwork.”
“That is fine. I can come back Tuesday and get them if that is all right with you.”
“That’s okay. I will get the paperwork to my attorney this afternoon.”
“So, this means you will sell me the house and its contents for the check I will give you?”
“Yes.” I couldn’t turn down an offer like this. I can buy another Victorian manor. There are at least two more in town.
He glanced at the picture of Lincoln. “You do know I’m buying the contents, Mr. Foster. I am sorry. That picture is part of the contents of this house.”
“But, it is very special to me. Won’t you please, let me take it. What possible difference could it make?”
“I guess nothing. You can take it.” I didn’t tell him about the envelope I found attached to this picture.
I went to my lawyer’s office, and waited while he read the documents. “Everything is in order, Damien. I don’t see why you couldn’t sign them." I told him With the money, I planned on buying another Victorian home.
Henry Dole came by the house, and I returned the papers, signed.
I didn’t mind leaving my home. I found a better Victorian two streets over. The price was two-hundred and ten dollars. I dickered, and got the price down to an even two-hundred thousand. I was happy, and the owners were excited. The owner said, in his excitement. “Mr. Foster. I have to admit something to you. I only paid one-hundred and sixty thousand for this house.”
“That’s good. I’m glad you made a profit.” He was surprised, I didn’t holler at him, tell him the deal was off. I assured him. I was happy with my purchase.
I suppose you want to know what was in that envelope. If I told you, it was empty, would you believe me? Well, it wasn’t. Benjamin’s treasure was diamond necklace the note said was worn by Marie Antoinette. I doubted it. I had it appraised. It was worth sixty-thousand dollars, but was never worn my Miss Antoinette. It was crafted a century after her death.
I went into work at the Wyler’s Insurance Company where I’d been employed for twenty-five years and gave my notice. I had enough in the bank to cover me until I retired in two years.
May I make a suggestion. If you bought a house, and there was a picture on the wall, left by a former resident. Take it down, and look behind the frame. You might be surprised at what you’ll find. I was.
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