Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Yuletide Yarn, 2: The Family Tree

“Remarkable!” Oliver’s father said for perhaps the fifth time since being handed the book. At this point, he was sitting in front of the computer, searching the Internet about first edition copies of A Christmas Carol. He had already made plans to take it round to Collinge & Clarke’s after the holidays to see what they had to say about it. “Did you know that, if this book is authentic, it might sell for as much as thirty thousand pounds?”

Oliver’s mother snorted. “You’re having a laugh,” she said, then caught the serious yet excited look on Oliver’s father’s face. “Well, that would be something, wouldn’t it? It would be the most expensive book in our collection.”

“By far, Lucie,” replied Oliver’s father. “And you just found it under the bench in the back yard?”

In the bench, Jack. The bench was some kind of time capsule. Oh, speaking of… Oliver, what were the names on the lid?”

Oliver didn’t answer, as he was only vaguely paying attention to the conversation his parents were having. He had opened the other book, which appeared to be a personal journal maintained by Timothy Crocket. Unfortunately, Timothy had not been much of a writer; his penmanship made most of the entries almost completely illegible. Maybe he was a doctor, Oliver mused to himself.

At one point, near the end of the entries, the handwriting changed completely. Timothy must have switched to dictation, as the new script was completely readable. Those entries shed a bit of light onto the lives of Timothy and his family. Robert Crocket and Elmer Scroggie were partners in an accounting firm in the business district near the Royal Courts of Justice. Timothy didn’t seem involved directly in the business, unless the firm had a charitable arm. What mostly occupied Timothy’s time, according to the journal, were philanthropic works. The entries ended with a sparse family tree, hand drawn in the style of the earlier author. Oliver squinted his eyes at the boxes, trying to make out the names there. The name at the center of the tree started with a “T,” that much was clear. There were a couple of boxes off to both the right and left, with a pair of boxes above, another box just next to it but connected with a differently shaped line, and two more boxes connected beneath it.

OLIVER!” his mother yelled, causing him to almost drop the journal.

“I’m right here, Mom. You don’t have to scream at me!”

“Well, apparently I do, else I wouldn’t have done it. Now that I’ve got your attention,” she continued, her voice at its normal decibel level, “what were the names on the lid of that time capsule?”

“Crocket, mainly. Timothy, his father Robert, and his father’s business partner, Mr. Scroggie. Look here,” Oliver said, showing her the end of the journal. She took the book from his hands, walking across the room to where his father still alternated between lovingly caressing A Christmas Carol, typing happily on the computer, and saying ‘remarkable’ at one or the other.

“Jack, you should have a look at this as well,” Oliver’s mother said, handing the journal over to him. “It’s a family tree, and a good early Christmas for you, you genealogy nut!”

“It’s Christmas Eve, so not that early,” Oliver’s father replied, winking and accepting the journal as he pointed out the window to where the last of the day’s light was falling off the edge of the world. It was the most sunlight they’d seen all day. The snow clouds had been thick and heavy, although not much snow had actually fallen. It was a proper British Christmas Eve, after all. The snow was supposed to wait until after sundown to begin in earnest.

“Well now, this is interesting! These names here,” he said, pointing to the siblings of Timothy displayed on the family tree, “can you read them? Do they mean anything to either of you?”

Oliver bent over the page again, jostling for good positioning with his mother. After a few more moment of squinting, he realized who they were. “They’re the names of all the Cratchit’s. Those are Tiny Tim’s brothers and sisters.”

Oliver’s father raised his eyebrows at the statement, both in confusion and surprise, looking again at the names displayed in the journal. “From A Christmas Carol? Are you sure?”

“Yes, I re-read the story pretty much every year at this point. In the story, Tiny Tim’s got two older siblings, Martha and Peter,” he said, pointing to the names to the left of Timothy’s. The names printed there were certainly short enough, and if you looked at them just right, they might start with “M” and “P.” “He also had another brother and sister whose names are never mentioned in the story. According to this tree, it looks like their names might’ve been Benjamin and Alice, maybe? And these dates,” Oliver continued pointing to some numbers just beneath the names, “both say 1831. They might have been twins.”

“It does seem… peculiar, ” Oliver’s father said, shaking his head, “but I think A Christmas Carol is too fantastic to be anything but a work of fiction. And besides, this house has always been in your family, hasn’t it Luce?”

Oliver’s mother nodded in reply. “As far as I know, yes.”

A thought came to Oliver’s mind. “Dad, how far back has your research on Mom’s side of the family gone?”

Oliver’s father turned back to the computer. He spent a few moments tapping the keys, looking at the screen, tapping more keys, and finally said, “The oldest ancestors I’ve uncovered are Michael and Harriet Bramer, your mother’s great-great-great-grandparents.”

“Do you have any birthdates for them?”

“1832 for Harriet, but nothing for Michael yet.”

“That would have been the generation that built this house then. The time capsule had that part right. This house was originally constructed around 1850,” Oliver’s mother offered.

Oliver picked up the journal again, trying to make out the other names connected directly adjacent to Timothy’s and beneath it. He figured the two underneath were Timothy’s children, and the one adjacent was probably his wife. The wife’s name was pretty smudged, and it might’ve been wishful thinking that made it look like it began with an “H.” The other two names, the names of the children, were slightly clearer. They definitely both began with an “A,” and looked like they might’ve been Arthur and Anna.

“Dad, what children do you have for Michael and Harriet?”

“Let’s see… Emerson, Lucille—” 

“My namesake, no doubt!” Oliver’s mother chimed in.

Oliver’s father smiled. “Then Arthur, and—”

“Anna!” Oliver finished, interrupting his father excitedly. “Which of those kids are we descended from?”

“Anna, born 1850,” Oliver’s father replied, his hand slowly rising from the keyboard to adjust the glasses on his face. “How did you know her name? Did I tell you, or…”

Oliver reversed the book so that his father could see it clearly, pointing to the box underneath Timothy’s. The name in the box was Anna Crocket, born 1850. Oliver’s father turned back to the computer, then said, “In my research, her maiden name was Bramer — Anna Bramer. I haven’t even heard of Crocket in this area before this evening.”

Before they could say anything else, a clattering sound echoed from the entryway through the house to where they sat in the small library. Voices could be heard, muffled but growing in volume and definitely lacking in holiday cheer. A moment later, the sound of the door crashing open was drowned out by a simultaneously high-pitched, discordant, yet endearing voice yelling from that general direction.

“We’re here! Someone come help us with these damn presents, you ungrateful wankers!”

Oliver’s sisters, Daphne and Victoria, had finally arrived.

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