Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Puzzle of Hunter Manor- Chapter 2: Old Uncle Simon

Simon sat in his Library wrapped in a blanket quietly sipping a cup of cocoa. His wrinkled hands embraced the warm mug and he set the cup down only when he needed to wipe his chin. His hair which had once been a sandy brown was now stark white, and his hands which had once been nimble now struggled to keep his mug aloft without spilling.

It had been twenty-five years since that fateful day when Mort had broken down, and he had not seen him since. Anna had come by a few more times, but without Mort to compete against, she soon lost interest in his puzzles and treasure hunts. So he had grown old without their company, and some days wondered if they still thought about him at all. That would soon change. He had put this task off for far too long. He would bring them together for one last puzzle, and hopefully bridge the gulf between them.

Jared, who was now bald, was arranging and dusting the encyclopedia. The encyclopedia was bound in red leather with gold gilded lettering. It was by no means valuable, but was one of the mainstays of his collection. All around the room rows of built in shelves displayed their numerous volumes. In one corner a leather bound black volume contained the complete works of Shakespeare, other shelves were lined with classics like Treasure Island, The Secret Garden, and The Lord of the Rings. Some shelves held the books Mortimer and Annabel had read when they stayed over the weekend. These children's stories took them on adventures in Narnia, Idaville, and River Heights.

Simon sighed as he remembered sitting on the plush rug in front of the fire reading with his niece and nephew on cold winter nights as the snow gently fell outside the window. They would spend the evenings trailing along with Harriet the Spy, or dashing through Hogwarts with Harry Potter. Some days they would journey to Middle Earth with Bilbo and Gandalf, while other times they would join the Three Investigators as they tried to discover the secret of the talking skull. There had been many laughs, tears, and moments of reflection in this room.

Yes, this was definitely his favorite room! How he would miss it!

"The encyclopedia has been arranged and dusted as you requested sir!" said Jared in a stiff, formal voice. "Is there anything else you would require this evening sir?"

"Not until Mr. Henson arrives, Jared, thank you."

Jared bowed and left the room leaving Simon to his thoughts.

It was ready! Simon's eyes twinkled like they hadn't in years. Every clue was now in place, every hint. Now he just had the legal hassle to arrange, but Henson would see to that. By the time he retired this evening everything would be in place! It had taken a long time to put this puzzle together, but it would be worth it! Oh that he could live to see their faces! But that would simply not be possible this time. He was too old, and this was the only thing he could think of that would bring Mortimer back to the mansion.

How he had misunderstood the boy. He thought he was creating a fun environment for his niece and nephew to come and enjoy a treasure hunt while they were here. Instead he had created a rivalry between the two cousins that culminated in Mortimer losing his grip and his lunch. Since that day Mortimer had refused every letter and phone call from him. Never an invitation accepted. Simon had even tried to reach out through his sister, Mortimer's mother, Cumorah. But she couldn't provide any more information as Mortimer refused to talk about what had happened, or left the room when she tried to push the topic.

There was a soft knock at the door. Simon looked up as Marie entered. Her once brown curls were starting to show signs of gray, and she wore a black dress and white apron that befit her regular duties in the kitchen.

"Mr. Henson is here to see you sir, shall I show him in?"

"Yes, thank you Marie. Would you be so kind as to fetch Jared as well, I will need both of your assistance one last time I think."

Marie bowed herself from the room and returned a few minutes later with Mr. Henson. She then excused herself to fetch Jared.

"Evening, Simon," he said by way of greeting. "A bit chilly tonight."

"Indeed Archibald, indeed. I hope you got my message about the changes to be made."

"I did, and I think you will find everything in order."

In Marie's absence Simon gave Mr. Henson a hard look over while he set his briefcase on a table. Archibald Henson was a stout man who had a full head of white hair. He wore a three piece suit and a green tie. His shoes were scuffed and in need of polish. The rings below his eyes bespoke many sleepless nights. He pulled several folders and papers from his briefcase and laid them out on the table for Simon's inspection.

Simon carefully set his mug on the side table and picked up the first of the papers and began to read. Jared and Marie entered the room shortly after he reached the second page of the document. They stood silently, awaiting their orders. Marie looked at Mr. Henson once or twice as Simon continued reading. Jared offered Mr. Henson a repast which the latter waved away as he sat in the chair opposite Simon.

Once Simon had finished reading the document in its entirety, he signed the bottom of the last page in his loopy scrawl and offered the pen to Jared. Jared stepped forward and also signed the last page on a line labeled "Witnesses" in his firm, measured hand. He then turned and offered the pen to Marie who had teared up and was dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. She signed the line below Jared's in a neat and tidy script.

Mr. Henson nodded and placed the papers back in his briefcase, then handed one folder to Jared, the other to Marie.

"I'm sure you know what to do with these," he said in his most professional voice.

"We have been informed of the intent," said Jared who remained stiff and unreadable. Marie, however, was sobbing once again and could only nod as she tried to wipe away a fresh smattering of tears.

"Well Simon, I hope you are pleased with the whole affair. I have had some strange requests in my day, but this one takes the cake."

Simon smiled at this remark and ran a hand through his thin, wispy hair. "I do hope it turns out as well as I have planned, but of course I won't be around to find out. Do watch after them, Archibald, and make sure there is no foul play on either side. Jared and Marie will be at your disposal of course, should you require their help in anything over the course of the week. They know the house and grounds better than even myself, so they will be a great resource for you."

"I just don't know how you think this will patch everything up between those two." Said Henson as he snapped his briefcase closed. "From what you've told me this could just inflame the situation further."

Simon closed his eyes and shrugged. "It may, but the only real trouble I see is getting Mortimer here. If he comes the rest should work itself out. They have not always been enemies, in fact, I think Mort sees me as the larger problem if what I hear from his mother is correct."

"That's why you set up the invitations the way you did then?" Henson asked, "To make sure Mortimer comes to the manor?"

Simon nodded. "It seemed like the only way. I only hope it is enough to make up for my own foolish mistakes when he was younger."

They sat in silence for a few moments longer watching the fire which had settled and was beginning its slow decline to ash. Henson then arose and picked up his briefcase.

"Well, I best be on my way. I hope to see you again Simon, at least once more before this whole affair starts."

"I very much doubt that Archibald. I take great pride in the recommendations of my doctor, and he has made it very clear that I do not have much time left on this mortal plane. It was very good to see you tonight, and I can now pass on knowing that my affairs are all in order."

Marie sniffed loudly at this, and try as she might her tears could not be held back.

Mr. Henson couldn't think of anything to say, so he shook Simon's hand and bid him "Goodnight." Jared then showed Mr. Henson out of the room. Marie, not wanting to bother Simon also left the room to dry her tears away from her dying master.

Simon sighed heavily. He knew this would be tough on Marie, but it could not be helped. He was old, he knew it and there was nothing to be done. He was going to die, and he needed Marie to be strong, at least long enough to help administer this last puzzle to his niece and nephew. Jared, he knew, would do his duty to the letter, his constitution was such that he would do no less.

Simon picked up his mug again, and began to drink. A soft rain began pattering against the window, and the fire continued to flicker in the grate. The silence was deep, even Marie's sobs seemed to stop. The soft beat of drops on the window pane lulled Simon gently to sleep. Soon his soft snore was added to the beat of the raindrops and the crackle of the fire. This sleepy melody went on for about an hour, when the snore suddenly ceased.

When the clock struck ten and Simon didn't ring the bell for Jared to help him get ready for bed. Marie began to worry, and looked at Jared nervously.

"Do... do you think we should go check on him?" she asked.

Jared checked his pocket watch with a stern look on his face. "We'll give him ten more minutes, then I will go look in on him."

The ten minutes ticked slowly by on the grandfather clock in the hall. Marie started her evening routine of checking rooms and turning out the lights on the ground floor. Jared walked stiffly up the grand staircase and was apprehensive about what he would find. He peeked through the door to see Simon apparently sleeping in the same easy chair he had occupied all that evening. Jared knocked gently on the door, but Simon made no reply. The butler knocked a second time, more loudly, then rushed into the room.

Simon's chin was resting on his chest. His mug of cocoa had slipped out of his hand and spilled down his evening gown and onto the blanket that was wrapped around him. Jared quickly felt for a pulse, but found none. He called down to Marie to come quickly. She ran up the stairs two at a time and came to a sudden halt as she looked down at Simon. She collapsed into a chair shaking and weeping bitterly.

"Now, now Marie, he knew it would come to this." Said Jared softly, resting his hand on her shoulder.

"Yes, yes, but not this soon!" she bawled, trying to keep up with the tears streaming down her face.

"I think he had a very good idea that it would be today," said Jared. Marie was so shocked by this statement that she stopped crying and stared at him.

"How do you know?" she demanded.

"Because of this," he said pulling a paper from his folder and handing it to Marie. She took it and examined it closely. "As you can see this is a legally binding Do Not Resuscitate order, filled out and signed today along with the will and the other documents Mr. Henson brought by. He knew this was coming and that it was coming soon."

Marie read the entire document through again and knew Jared must be right. Simon was well aware of how much time he had left, and saw to it that they would not try to bring him back. His penance was to bring his nephew and niece back together, and it started with his death. The sooner the better.

"Well, I have two letters that need mailing, and I believe we will need to alert the funeral home of his present state," Jared said, all business once again.

Marie just sat and stared as Jared left the room. What was that man made of? How could he continue following his orders when the master he had served all this life was sitting here dead?

The maid had not yet learned to rely on Jared's sense of duty, but she along with everyone else would soon see that Simon had been right in setting his affairs in order, by including Jared in the terms of his will.

So how was it?

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