“You have hope chests at this sale, is that correct?” Eloise asked.
“Oh, yes,” the auctioneer’s assistant said. “Right over there. We’ll probably get to them in about twenty minutes.”
“Thank you.” Eloise walked in the direction the man had pointed. She gave each chest only a quick once-over; the one she hoped to find was distinctive.
Eloise tried to tamp down the constant flare of anger she felt toward her late sister’s daughter and that rogue she was married to. After Marnie’s death, Junie – doubtless prodded by Fred – sold her mother’s hope chest at a yard sale. Fred had conned the buyer into thinking the chest was a valuable antique that the family ever so hated to let go, but you knew how it was.
Antique it may have been, but its value was primarily sentimental.
“Did your mother never tell you the story of her hope chest, Niece?” Eloise had demanded.
“Yes, Aunt Eloise, of course she did. It was made by her first fiance, Ervin, who gave it to her the day before he joined the army during the First World War. He never returned from the war and the chest and a few letters were all she had left of him. But Mother is gone now, and Ervin fell to the Kaiser’s troops decades ago. I simply had no reason to keep the chest.”
Eloise had been scandalized to see her own daughter, Patricia, shrug the matter off as though it were of no consequence. Such was the lax thinking of the younger generation.
The large chest made by the late, lovingly remembered Ervin as an engagement gift bore exquisitely carved butterflies on its top and front panel. When opened, a single tray lifted upward with the top, and another gorgeous butterfly was seen on the inside of the lid. Furthermore, it was solid enough to last until Judgment Day. Such workmanship was scarcely found anymore.
As Eloise passed by several chests, she huffed softly yet again at what had become of her daughter and her niece. Then she stopped short and slowly walked back to re-examine one. It was decently but not generously sized. It had a simple – almost crude – outline of a butterfly on the front panel and the lid. She bent and gently opened the chest. A tray rose with the lid, and even in the poor light of the auction hall she could see another primitive butterfly on the inside.
“Can it be?” she whispered.
There was one more detail to look for, and she found it. Inside the chest, in the lower right corner, she saw a small heart with the initials M.K.(H.) + E.H. This was the hope chest Ervin had built for Marnie. Eloise had spent uncounted hours visiting used furniture stores and antique shops and frequenting auctions she otherwise would not have gone near. At last, she had found it.
She eyed it critically. It was, beyond doubt, Marnie’s hope chest. But it was not the hope chest Eloise had carried in memory for three years, nor would it last until the Second Coming.
So I’m getting old and my memory for these things isn’t as sharp as it was. It doesn’t matter. This was Marnie’s hope chest, and Ervin would have been my brother-in-law had it not been for – well, yes – had it not been for the damned Kaiser, so back into the family it must come.
Surely after putting so much time and effort into the search, it must be consummated.
Eloise walked a short distance from the chest to ponder what to do. As she did, a young couple with a sleeping baby stopped and looked at the chest.
“That would be great,” the man said, and the woman nodded her agreement.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I can’t think of anything that would be better.”
As the young family admired the chest, Eloise thought, Perhaps I am being selfish. Perhaps it is time Ervin’s gift was given to a new family. Let it begin a second life. I could tell them the story so they would know how precious an artifact the chest truly is and could fully appreciate it.
“All I would have to do,” the man said, “would be to take that tray out. Then we could keep our recycling in here instead of in those ugly garbage bags.”
“And we could use the tray in the bathroom for baby wipes and such,” the woman said.
The hope chest came up for auction about ten minutes later. The Kaiser would have been impressed with how quickly and maliciously Eloise outbid the young couple.