The Legac

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Blessings from the past

Submitted: September 12, 2012

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Submitted: September 12, 2012

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THE LEGACY

A Short Story

By

Robert Earl Hazelett

roberthazelett@gmail.com

Copyright © 1994

All rights reserved

 

Charlotte Wilson looked at the old barn and realized it would soon fall down. It was in a terrible state of repair. Its wooden foundation had long since rotted away and the building now leaned precariously to one side. Many of the sun-bleached boards that formed its skin were loose. Several of them hung by only a single nail. Occasionally one of the dangling boards groaned in protest then clattered noisily against its neighbors as it was set in motion by the wind.

The barn was the only remaining building on what had once been a prosperous dairy farm. That farm originally consisted of more than a thousand acres but now only a single acre of it remained. The rest of the property had been purchased long ago by a neighbor. He grew potatoes on it.

Charlotte knew that neighbor. He was an old family friend, and he had once told her that he didn’t buy this piece of the property because he considered the barn a liability.

No one else wanted it either and several years after the owner died the county foreclosed on it because of unpaid taxes. That was long ago, and the county had been trying to sell it ever since.

She stepped off the gravel road and waded through the knee-deep weeds as she walked toward the crumbling building. She wanted a closer look at it. It had a history few people knew about. She'd lived in this area all her life and had seen the old structure many times but it meant nothing to her until yesterday. Yesterday it became very precious in her mind.

As she went inside, she found the cattle stalls were still intact, although they were now little more than a delicate lattice of decaying boards and timbers. She walked into one of the stalls and looked around. In her mind's eye she could see a young woman sitting here on a stool milking a cow by lantern light, and for a fleeting moment she imagined she could smell the pungent odor of cow dung mixed with urine. But the sensation was quickly lost to her. She turned her head and sniffed again in a desperate effort to recapture it. No use; it was gone.

She climbed to the hayloft and spent several minutes there. As she studied it she realized that she must be careful where she stepped. It, too, was rotting away. The floor looked very unsafe. She bent down and touched it with her hand.

It was once the custom for a farmer's guests to sleep in the hayloft of his barn and she wondered how many people had slept in this one. At least two persons had, she knew. And those two lovers once shared their pleasures here. She listened hard and tried to hear the sounds they might have made. Nothing. The eerie silence was broken only by the whistling of the wind as it forced its way through the cracks in the rotting walls. She frowned and went outside.

As she walked around the building she stopped several times and laid her hand against it. She wished she could somehow communicate with it. If she could do that she might learn all the secrets of its past. But she knew the barn could never speak to her and for a moment she deeply regretted that. In sadness she shrugged off the feeling and walked on.

At the northwest corner of the building she stopped again. There she kicked at the loose and sandy earth. It moved freely under the impact of her boot, and as she pushed the soil away she uncovered a rusty piece of steel a few inches below the surface. She looked closely at it. It was the cover of a steel box. She smiled, spread the dirt back over it then laid her hands against the barn again and pressed her body close to it. Deep emotions flowed within her. Touching the barn made her feel close to the man who buried the box she just uncovered. Touching it made her feel close to the young woman who once milked the cows. But she wasn't close enough. She could see those people in her mind, but she could not touch them nor could she hear them speak. That troubled her so she turned away and walked back to the road.

"What is the asking price for the property?" she asked the county agent who waited there.

"We've set a price of ten thousand dollars on it," the agent said. "That's what we feel we have in it. That includes the back taxes and other miscellaneous costs that have accrued over the years. However, we will consider any offer you might wish to make."

Charlotte wondered if she should offer less. Perhaps the county would even accept half that amount. No, haggling over the price might take a great deal of time, she thought. She couldn't risk delaying the transaction. She must have possession of the property immediately.

"That's all the money I have," she told the agent, "but I'll write a check for that amount right now. When can I sign the papers?"

"They’ll be ready by ten o'clock tomorrow morning," the agent replied.

She wrote the check. "Then I'll be in your office at ten o'clock tomorrow morning," she said.

As the agent drove away, she reached into her purse and removed the letter that was delivered to her yesterday. The envelope was soiled and stained, and some postal employee had scribbled a note across its back. The note apologized for the long delay in delivering the letter and said that it had been lost for many years. It had somehow fallen behind a counter in an old post office in Chicago and wasn’t found until recently when the building was being remodeled.

She read the letter for the hundredth time. It was dated July 21, 1934, and it was addressed to her grandmother. The man who wrote it was apparently her grandfather, although she hadn't known his name until she'd read the letter. Her grandmother always refused to talk about him.

In the letter, her grandfather told her grandmother that he enjoyed the week he'd spent here and that he'd never forget the evening they'd spent together in the hayloft. He thanked her for the memory of that.

He went on to say that he'd recently learned that she was pregnant. He apologized then said he would never see her again. He wished he could, he said, but events were rapidly overtaking him. His future was now beyond his control. He recently learned that a plot to kill him was in the making and he was certain he could not survive it.

The third paragraph told her that a steel box could be found buried near the northwest corner of the barn. He buried it there late one night, he claimed. In it she would find more than fifty-thousand dollars worth of gold. The gold was hers, he wrote. It was to be used to support and educate their child.

Charlotte thought about it all. It had been a remarkable chain of events that led her here. If her grandmother hadn't milked cows for the people who once owned this place, and if they hadn't been closely associated with her grandfather, things wouldn't be as they were today. Her grandmother would never have met her grandfather and she wouldn't have spent that night in the barn with him. Her mother wouldn't have been conceived that night and, Charlotte knew, she herself wouldn't be here. Then Charlotte thought about the old house she inherited from her grandmother. If she hadn't decided to make it her home the postman wouldn't have delivered the letter to her.

She held the letter to her breast and wondered if her grandmother had loved her grandfather. Perhaps not; she had known him only during that one week he spent at the farm. On the other hand, perhaps she had loved him dearly. No one would ever know for sure.

She wiped away a tear then looked again at the letter. She wondered if it had any historic value. It must have, she thought. Not everyone had a letter that was written and signed by this man. But no matter what its value, she could never part with it. It meant too much to her.

Besides, after tomorrow, money would be the least of her problems. After tomorrow she'd own this property and everything on or in it. That included the steel box and the gold it contained. And today that gold was worth more than a million dollars.

She would save the letter, she told herself as she got into her car and drove away. When her two children were old enough to understand, she would show it to them. They would probably want to know something about their great-grandfather. Charlotte wondered how they'd feel after learning that he was shot to death by the FBI. John Dillinger was his name.

 

-- The end --

 

It is said that Dillinger graduated from robbing stores and began robbing banks in June of 1933. During his short career he took more than $265,000.00 from those institutions, a tidy sum in the days when bread was a nickel a loaf and one could buy a new car for considerably less than a thousand dollars.

But his behavior brought him to the close attention of J. Edgar Hoover, a dedicated but fanatic man who felt the "Robin Hoods" of the depression were a direct threat to him. Their seeming success at their trade undermined his reputation and therefore his security as head of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation, an agency charged with enforcing federal law.

It is rumored that Hoover secretly ordered that men like Dillinger were to be killed if possible and taken into custody only as a last resort. Such action was to serve as a warning to others. Whatever the truth, Dillinger was the first man to be placed on the FBI's "most wanted" list, and shortly thereafter he was shot to death by FBI agents outside a theater in Chicago about 6:00 p.m. of July 22, 1934 after his girlfriend told authorities he would be attending a movie there.

Dillinger's father claimed the killing was an execution. Few paid attention even though it was widely known that the famous bank robber's gun was still in its holster when the hail of federal bullets laid him low. Even those who cut him down said Dillinger made no attempt to shoot back.

 


© Copyright 2017 Robert Earl Hazelett. All rights reserved.

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