Rachel decided to stop reading and set aside the stack of pink pages which made up the Island Poems. She was intrigued by what she had read and she wanted to read the rest of the poems but she was anxious to see what else the old box might contain. She had not recognized the island in the poems, assuming it was a real one. She did not make any connection, through family members or stories she had been told, to an island. Perhaps, she would remember something later.
Rachel stood to look at the contents of the wooden box more carefully. She barely had glanced at them when she picked out the pink folder of poems. That folder had looked so appealing with its faded pink ribbon and the pale pink pages.
Now she saw there were more packets of papers. They were made up of larger pages. The Island Poems were written on note paper half the size of letter paper. The other bundles were on letter-sized paper. One contained all pale green pages. A second contained pale blue pages. A third, slimmer one contained yellow pages.
Rachel peeked into each bundle. She saw that the pages in the bundles had printed or typewritten words on them. At her quick glance, they appeared to be prose. She did not feel like reading more right then. She wanted most to see what else was in the box. The poems had created a whir of images and ideas in her mind. She was curious to see what other kinds of things were in the box so she set the bundles of coloured papers aside.
When she lifted off the lid of the box, she gasped. What had she expected?
Rachel picked up the smallest of the black boxes she found lying under the papers. When she lifted off the lid of the box, she gasped. What had she expected? She wasn’t sure but here was a small boat, a skiff. It was a brilliant deep green colour. She stared at it lying in the box on a shiny piece of dark red silk. The boat’s mast lay lengthwise on top of the boat. She was hesitant to touch the boat. She felt something compelling about it but that feeling made her a little cautious. She recalled her father’s words about the contents of the box, about the inheritance. She felt reassured.
Gingerly, she touched the boat. An image of a coastline popped into her mind. The boat seemed to be singing to her. Singing of journeys at sea or journeys to see or both. As she tried to discern the very soft sounds she was hearing, she picked up the boat. It was amazingly light. She had assumed it was made of wood while she was staring at it. If it were wood, it was the lightest wood she had ever held. She ran her fingers along the gunwales and then the hull. There were two thwarts, each wide enough, relatively, to be used as seats. She noted the tabernacle by which the mast could be attached.
What did this signify? She was most curious. Maybe some of the other things in the box would help her understand. The boat was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. With delight, she held it to her heart for a few moments and then gently put it back in its silk-lined box. She hated to close the box so she left it open for the time being. She left the open box and its lid on the desk.
A larger black box drew her attention next. She lifted it out of the old wooden container. The lid of the black box was folded shut. She opened it. There was cloth, fabric, inside it. She saw a black shimmering piece of folded material. She lifted it out. It was amazingly light in weight. The black shone like the feathers of a raven or crow. As she lifted it she saw the blue cast of light she sometimes noticed on a crow’s back as the crow hopped across the ground.
It was soft as the softest downy feather she had ever touched but shiny like an outer feather.
The fabric was of a variety she had never touched before. It was soft as the softest downy feather she had ever touched but shiny like an outer feather. She set the clump of folded fabric on the desk and unfolded it. She was wondering if it was merely a piece of fabric or an actual garment. She was surprised at how many folds there were. As she opened out the fabric it became clear that it was a robe. Seeing its shape, she could imagine it around the shoulders of a person but she couldn’t imagine who would wear it or why. The fabric seemed so exotic she doubted it would be worn formally. Perhaps it was for a ceremonial purpose. She did not want to try it on as she knew there was more to explore in the box from which she had taken it. She folded it back as she had found it.
Next she pulled out a fold of green fabric. It was equally fine and light to the touch but something heavy was in the centre of it. She set the fabric on the desk and unfolded it. After opening two folds she found a golden cloak clasp. She immediately recognized the patterns on the brooch. The triskelion at the closed side of the clasp and the bird heads at each of the open ends of the near-circle. The engraving on the brooch was fine and clear. The metal work itself was very fine. She set the brooch on the black folded material while she continued to unfold the green fabric. Once she had the several folds opened it was obvious that it too was a cloak with a hood. Who on earth had owned these garments? Who had worn them? How old were they? Many questions were circling in Rachel’s mind. Again she folded the material back to the way it had been, placing the golden clasp in the folds as she had found it.
She looked into the box from which she had taken the two garments. An off-white material formed a circle in the box. It was a felted material with ribbon trim. After a few moments, she realized she must be looking at the brim of a hat. She lifted it out of the box. It was a top hat with a set of huge feathers decorating it on one side. The hat itself and all its trimmings were off-white. She could see how it might go with one or both of the cloaks. She suspected it was of more recent fabrication than the garments which had been lying inside its upturned crown. She turned the hat around in her hands, holding it up, imagining what it would look like on someone. It would surely make a statement of some sort. She put the hat back in the box which was fitted for it. Then she carefully lay the green fabric back in the crown and then the black shimmery fabric on top and folded the box top closed. Rachel was struck by the idea that it would be unusual to see a woman wearing such a hat—the garments, yes, but the hat surprised her. Her father had said this box contained a feminine inheritance.
She took a deep breath while promising herself this was the last box she would open today . . .
Another flat box had lain beside the hat box. Rachel pulled it out next. She set it down on the desk to open it. The lid slipped up easily. Inside she saw a fold of rich purple fabric. She wondered what was underneath. How many more surprises could she absorb? She took a deep breath while promising herself this was the last box she would open today though she knew there was at least one more within the old wooden container.
She folded one side of the purple fabric back and realized immediately that she was looking at the back of a mask. She saw an eye hole and the corner of a mouth hole and a leather strap lying within the hollow of the mask. She folded back the other side of the fabric. She lifted the mask out of the box. As she turned the mask around in her hands, she was startled by its design. She had seen one or two similar masks in the past. One side was a very smooth white surface—the side which would cover the left side of the wearer’s face. The other side was a roughened black surface. The two eye holes were identical in shape. The mouth was outlined in red on the black side of the mask and in black on the white side of the mask. The mouth seemed somewhat downturned on the black side but was held in a more relaxed expressionless line on the white side. The leather strap was old and worn but the face surfaces seemed fresh as if finished recently. There was some wispy grey hair at the top of the mask. Some of the hairs stuck straight up but some sprung forward over the forehead of the painted face.
Rachel turned the mask over and saw there were initials carved to one side where the ear might be. They appeared to be VR. Rachel did not make any immediate association with those initials. She didn’t notice any other markings on the mask’s smooth and finely finished interior surface. She held the mask out, face side towards her, to gaze at it. The mask’s power struck her right in the heart. She felt the piercing gaze penetrate the centre of her chest. She breathed deeply as she stared back at the mask for a few more moments. Then she gently laid the beautiful object back in its place on the purple silk, folded the fabric and placed the lid back on the box.
She was tempted to go farther but she had promised herself she would stop now. She plopped down in the desk chair. She let her arms hang at the sides of the chair. She was puzzled, excited, concerned, jubilant all at the same time. What a treasure she had found. What puzzles she had unearthed. What stories had these objects to tell? Then there were the written documents which she had not looked at more than cursorily. She didn’t know where to begin. Perhaps she should look at the written material to see if it had any relation to the objects she had found. That seemed an obvious next step. She could always come back to the box to see what else it held some other day. She decided that she would look at one of the paper stacks next. But first she would replace the boxes she had opened back in the old wooden box, as she had found them.
Later that evening, Rachel returned to the library, picked up the stack of green pages and sat down to read.
The story on the green pages, Muriel and Miranda, begins here.
Rachel’s father’s letter can be found here.
The first part of Opening the Box appears here.
The Island Poems are collected here.
The Series of stories related to the Opening of the Old Wooden box appear here.