The Jewel Box
“Did you send for us father?” asked Sarah, as she and her sister entered the massive library. Slowly and softly he greeted them. “Hello girls, come and sit here by me,” he requested. They sat stiffly in their starched pinafores, as they were unaccustomed to being summoned. “I have something for you.” Nervously, the girls examined the taught pale skin over his arthritic knuckles trying to see the wooden box on his lap that was covered by his hands. His voice quivered. “As you know, my dear sister, your aunt, has passed away. She was taken by that dreaded ‘spotted fever disease’. We don’t know how she contracted it.” He paused. His voice elevated into angry and frustration, while lifting his fist, “if I knew who did this to her. I would thrash them completely.” He gave a great sigh and calmed back down to his pervious remorse, as he realized the foolishness of his statement. “Of course, we don’t know who infected her. It could have been a servant, a diplomat or even one of her women’s committee members. There have been thousands who have died of that horrible disease.”
“When she broke out with the spots, she was hopeful that it would pass, but when her breath became labored, she knew that it would soon be her time to go.” He hesitated a moment to take a breath. “Having no children of her own, in her final moments, she thought of you girls.” Unconsciously, he began tracing his finger through the engraving of lilies and her name, as if he could summon the ghost it represented. They could see his face soften and a faint smile appeared, as he remembered seeing his sister running in the rose garden when they were children. He pictured with amusement, the nursemaid dozing off, while the children played, until their laughter woke her. Returning to the present, he continued, “She has bequeathed these gifts to you. The mahogany box was a gift from her husband. It matched her desk, and she loved lilies. She wanted her namesake, you, Mary, to have it. For you, Sarah, is the content of the jewel box, a family heirloom. She said that she only used it once, at her husband’s inauguration ball. She hoped you would employ it for your first cotillion.” Excited by the gifts, the girls smiled, and he melted inside.
“Please dress for dinner. Tell your governess to sup with the cook. I want you to dine with me from now on. They rose. He held his arms open. Apprehensively, they moved to him. He clasped them tightly to his chest crushing their slight bodies. Their eyes widened with surprise. “I couldn’t stand for you not to be with me.” Releasing them, he offered the box to Mary. The girls examined the box closely as they left the room. With eyes filled with tears, both of sadness and gratefulness, he vowed to hold tight those who meant the world to him.