Bill found the box whilst digging a new bed for his potatoes. The spade hit the metal tin with a dull chiming sound and vibrated in his hands. He used the tool to scrap off the soil and uncover the item. With his bad back, it took him a full minute to bend down and tug out the box. The earth rapidly filled the hole in removing all trace of the space.
Bill studied the square tin, it was heavy and any pictures or words were long gone. Using the spade he climbed out of the hole and back on to the allotment. A drop of rain hit his bare neck and he ambled over to his shed.
Pushing open the door with his elbow, he stumbled in. The light was already on and casting a glow on the work bench and a deck chair. Putting the spade against the wall, Bill sank into the chair. He grabbed an oily cloth and scrubbed it over the box. When he’d removed nearly all the dirt, he studied the tin again, but couldn’t make anything out. With a shrug, Bill tried to open it. The lid refused to give way and his fingers couldn’t find a good grip. He looked around and spotted a rusty screw driver on the floor close by.
He lent over and picked it up. It was the perfect tool to use and in seconds, he’d popped the lid off. He placed it and the screw driver carefully on the floor then looked inside. There was a collection of papers; letters and postcards, as well as a handful of trinkets.
Bill pulled out the first postcard, which had a seaside scene on the front, flipping it he could just make out the faded handwriting:
My Dearest Petal, I miss you more each day. The sea is my only companion and it can’t be compared to your gracious spirit. How long till I see you again? I do not know. That day in the gardens is forever with me and I see it every time I close my eyes.
Frowning, Bill read the address out aloud. He’d never heard of Brightmore House. Yet he had lived in Yorkshire all his life. Also, he didn’t know any Hughes. He shook the tin and heard something metal bounce back. He shifted through the paper and pulled out a gold chain, which had been lying close to the bottom. On the end dangled a small locket. With slightly shaking, but curious fingers he praised it open.
Inside was a tiny black and white photo of a face. It appeared to be a man with long hair, a strong chin and large cheeks. Bill held the image close to his fading eyes, but he couldn’t decipher anything else. Checking the locket he saw nothing inscribed upon it, so he put the photo back and closed it. Placing it back in the tin, he pulled out an envelope and eased out the thin sheet of paper.
It was too faded to read and he needed more light. It was getting late anyway and he should head home. However, something had grabbed him about the tin’s contents and he wanted to find out more. Bill heard the rain start to fall faster and heavier. He made up his mind.
With the tin tucked under his arm, he locked the shed and hurried back home. As he entered the cottage, he was relieved to find that his wife had started the fire and dinner. He pulled off his boots and coat before going into the living room. Heat licked around his cold damp skin as he sank into his armchair.
He put the tin into his lap and opening the lid drew out the same letter. Turning on a lamp, he began reading.
I have sent the money you have asked with this letter. Please use it to come to me. The nights have been countless and empty without you. My heart pains to hold you again and I feel so utterly lost without you. I am still over welled by the bad news in your last letter. I have prayed that no one finds out, though the possibility of your angelic mother talking tortures me so. Everything has now been sorted and I have the tickets to Africa in my pocket.
Darling, I can’t wait to elope. Do not fret about anything. Please come as soon as you are well enough to do. There should be no problems bringing your maid. Write back to me and let the boy leave the letter at The Black Bull.
‘Bill, is that you?’
‘Yes. Mag,’ he called back without looking up. He could tell she was still in the kitchen by the sound of her voice. He placed the letter back in the envelope and pulled out a small handkerchief. Inside was a dried out forget me out flower.
‘What you got there?’
Bill looked up and saw his wife standing in the doorway.
‘A box ‘o letters,’ he replied, ‘dug it up.’
‘Letters? Who from?’
He shrugged and rooted around for the seaside postcard. He held it out to her and Mag, after drying her hands on her apron, came and took it from him.
‘Looks like I’ve uncovered some kind of love affair. What do you think?’
‘Maybe. Perhaps you should put it back? The past’s secrets are always best left buried in my opinion,’ Mag said, handing him the postcard.
‘Of course, Dear,’ Bill replied.
‘Dinner’s in a few. Go wash.’
Bill nodded and Mag left the room. As he thought over his wife’s words, he knew he just couldn’t do it.