With early 17th Century spellings updated, the parchment read smoothly, once you got the knack of reading from right to left with all the letters turned around. That’s what Brenda was telling Dorothy in the window booth at Kaiser’s Café in Springfield. It was snowing outside. Dorothy said, “So Brenda, tell me how you found it.”
“We were restoring the property on Nahant Street. The ground floor was a maze of small rooms but when we looked at the plans we saw that half the walls were add-ons. There was supposed to be a kitchen, pantry, parlor, library, and dining room. We started knocking down the walls that didn’t belong.
“We’d gotten most of them down when we came to a dead space, about 7 by 10, with no doors, It abutted the pantry, but the pantry had stuff we wanted to preserve, so we went around and came at the space from the other side.
“We hammered off the plaster, and clawed out the lathing. There was a foot of space on the other side, and in that space we found brass gaslight fixtures, a crate of Century magazines, a roll of silver dollars, some Civil War memorabilia and.an old photo album full of nude photos: thin albumen prints pasted to stiff leaves. Very good quality.”
The waitress said, “What have we decided, ladies? Merry Christmas!”
Brenda said, “The steel cut oats for me.”
Dorothy picked up the menu. “My goodness! It opens on this side?”
“Need a minute, my pets? Merry Christmas!”
“What are you getting, Brenda?”
“Uh…the steel cut oats?”
“Hmmm! Let me see…”
The waitress glanced at her watch. “Take your time, my loves I’ll go wait on those merry gentlemen over there. Merry Christmas!”
Dorothy said, “ I shouldn’t get these waffles. I know I shouldn’t.”
Looking at her own watch, Brenda said, “So you and Les broke up?”
Dorothy put the menu down. “I guess you could say that. He went to pick up Chinese, and never came back. And I thought I was slow!” She picked up the menu. ”I can’t decide. The waffles or the happy smile pancakes?”
“Maybe they can squirt something on the waffles and they can be happy too!”
“We’re such great friends now, my loves!” said the waitress. “I love you! Merry Christmas!” She got up. “Can I take those plates? Just to make a little room for dessert?”
Dorothy said, “Hmm! Some ice cream would be nice!”
Brenda told the waitress, “Look, I’m expecting someone in just a minute. Maybe you could celebrate Christmas over there for a while.”
“No problem, sweetums! Merry Christmas!”
“OK, now, Dorothy! You’re gonna love this. Mal can fill you in on his side when he gets here…So there we were, tearing out more of the wall so we could find more treasure, but no luck. We looked at the next wall, also made of plaster and lathing. We grabbed our hammers. Bang bang bang. This time the treasure was more pricey: an oil portrait of an English lord, several leather bound books from the 1600s, a silver tea service, a book of star and planet maps, and a grey folded parchment document with something heavy inside. We left the document closed, and ordered pizza. We arranged all the loot on our card table and called in the experts: Bob’s crew and their wives, They came over and looked it over while eating pizza and drinking beer. So far we hadn’t opened the folded-up document. Would it be in English, Latin or French? We opened it. The grey color on the outside turned out to be scrubbed in dirt. The inside was a light tan color, darker in some places than in others because it was an animal’s skin. Blemishes, and cuts from a slip of the knife during liming and scraping had been sewed with thread. The heavy object inside turned out to be a hanging seal, a gob of hardened sealing wax with the seal impressed in it, hanging from the end of a parchment strip. The language was unknown. I saw a backward R and thought it could be Russian. But then it hit me: it was English written backward. As near as we could figure out, the document was a backward indenture. Instead of servitude, it granted its recipient, Malachai Wycke, later Lord Wycke, wealth, good fortune, health, and quittance of death for as long as the earth should turn.
“Next day we went to work clearing away what was left of the two false walls, but we still hadn’t gotten into the mystery space. The third wall was made of brick. Were we looking at a chimney? An oven? Bob hung a lamp in back of us and we began loosening the bricks. They were nice ones and we didn’t want to hurt them. We had made a foot wide hole when we started seeing him. He looked very patient sitting in there. We stopped chiselling and stared. Without changing his position the sitting man said, ‘I wish you hadn’t done this.’ You’re getting up, Dorothy. No, no, hold on!. Mal will be along soon. Back up and sit down. Backwards. One foot in back of the other. That’s what Mal taught us”
“I have several things I just remembered I have to do.”
“But you’re about to meet him! At least listen to the rest of my story!
Here’s what happened after that. Are you all settled there, Dorothy? Not going to cut and run? We got him out! Mal! We got the bricks out of the way, and stepped into that clean room with no fallen hair or skin cells, no grit, and no mouse droppings. He was not even stiff. He stood up easily, though he didn’t want to. I took his hand which was large and strong. He looked 35 or so, this man who had been the son of the 1590s courtier in the oil portrait. Before his indenture he had been well fed and exercised, accustomed to stand straight. He was now wearing an 1880’s suit with London tags. A diamond was in the tie.
“Yes he was aware he would need to change now, and dress like Bob. His vocabulary was pure 1880’s which was surprising in a minor magnate who had followed the warlike train, in the days of Charles the second. With his metabolism restarted he was
able to eat a snack. Soon he would need to shave and take a shower. That night we played cards. Mal is an aristocrat: he beat us in moments. When we showed him the TV, which he called an “action box,” he shrugged. “This can’t last,” he said. I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of that.
“Bob said, ‘Theatre, huh? Been there, done that?’
“I said, ‘Saaay, Mal! Ever seen this object here?’ and I brought him the album of nudes.
“He laughed. ‘It was one of Battenberg’s.’
“’A German count?’
“’Battenberg’s English name was Mountbatten. We went shooting in ’82.’
“’Oh, come now!’
Dorothy said, “Brenda, let me leave.”
“I’m almost there, Dot! Here’s what he told us last night.”
“We’d been to the bank where he had activated his account. How much money may be in it, he neither knows nor cares. He said he had a project in mind, and wished to ease it along with a gift of moneys. Bob would be the activant, the doer.”
“Contractor, Brenda. Bob’s a contractor. Mal doesn’t exist.”
“Then we drove home. At home he waved us into the kitchen. His hands made settling motions. We settled at the table.
“He said, ‘I know what novelty is, and I understand your enthusiasm of the last few days, and love you for it, as one loves a child. But there comes a time when the child should be taken in hand. I want you to put me back in the wall! I did it for the thrill, don’t you know!’
“Everything is reversed with him, you see? Wait! Don’t get up! He said there was no joy in progress, and bitterness aplenty in sweetness! He said that adventure and folly of every kind, had closed his life into a blind wheel of repetition. Doing something crushes all your lovely possibilities into one sad little accomplished fact. He said getting there is not half the fun! Excitement is not the spice of life! Quite the opposite! He used the 18th Century word ‘rattling’ to describe our desperate search for sensation.”
“This is not something I can listen to. I just lost my lover, and I want another! And by the way, I like to eat! Rattling? If it’s what I think it is, bring it on! Oh, and no death, please!”
“So…hold it!…hold it!…so…in 1883, he had his servant Julius brick him in…he didn’t even have a cup of tea beforehand. He just said, ‘Do it!’ Think about that. Isn’t it lovely?”
Dorothy got up and ran for her life. A man entering the door at the same time courteously stepped aside, then continued coming in. The jingle bells over the door didn’t ring for him, though he was quite large.. Striding across the small space he found the serving wench stooped over giving his young friend a hug and telling her, “Crying, my sweet? Now what’s the matter? A friend runs away, but tomorrow a god is born. Merry Christmas!”