I opened the locket; it contained not a photograph or a lock of hair as I’d expected, but a tiny, gleaming iridescent scarab beetle. As it caught the light it glinted and the legs appeared to move. I was so startled I nearly dropped it, thinking it to be alive. Insects had always unsettled me, especially large exotic foreign ones.
“It’s alright,” he laughed, catching my arm to steady me, “It’s been dead for over eighty years; It belonged to my dear old aunt. She brought it back from one of her mad trips -‘ Up the Nile on a Donkey ‘ or a camel probably. I think there’s a picture or two of the old rascal in these albums I found in her attic when I cleared the house.”
I followed him to the window where he held a page open in the light. Sure enough, in smoky sepia tones, sat on a camel was his eccentric aunt Amelia. A young woman of about thirty, dressed head to toe in some stiff cambric fabric, her head crowned with a solar topee and her feet buttoned into ankle boots. The camel was squatted on the ground in that odd, folded way they sit, it’s head collar held by a small, local boy who also, strangely held a large black umbrella over Amelia’s head.
” When was this taken, do you know ? It looks about 1900 judging by the clothes,” I said. Atkinson nodded, ” Yes, I guess so; they say she went on a trip to Egypt about then. Let me see, she was born in 1871 and died in 1952, she’d ‘a been 81.”
” But that means the house has been empty for ten years ” I said, “Why didn’t anyone do anything about it? Surely someone in the family would want things sorted. After all, where there’s a will …”
” There’s relatives ! ” chimed in Atkinson, laughing. ” No, that’s the whole point,” he continued, ” there was no Will. The cousins have been arguing about it ever since.”
” Surely if there’s no Will, it would go to the nearest blood relative – presumably one of the cousins? ”
” Exactly,” he said, ” but of course they’re identical twins and no one’s sure which one was the first born. All their records were lost in a house fire during the war, and neither of the parents are still alive.”
” So you mean it’s dragged on for nearly ten years? ”
” Afraid so,” he grinned, ” It’s only now that they’ve asked me to clear the house so they can get it valued and try to tie up the Estate. Looks like they’ll have to share it anyway despite all the arguments they’ve had.”
” So how did you get involved, aren’t you related too? ”
” Well, not really – I’ve been brought up in the family but I’m an orphan and I called her Auntie as she always had a soft spot for me.”
Atkinson smiled at the old pictures as he thumbed through the faded album. Amelia’s strong features beaming out across the years as she clambered over pyramids, shook hands with Bedouin tribesmen and waved herds of goats into makeshift pens in a ramshackle base camp.
We pored over the album for quite a while, trying to make out the other characters in the pictures. One tall, slim young man in a Safari Suit appeared most often, but Atkinson said he had no idea who it was. The light was fading now and as he closed the album, the back cover pulled away from the spine and what looked like a letter fell to the floor.
On closer examination, it was more than a letter, it looked very much like a legal document, a signed and witnessed Will. The last Will and Testament of Amelia Violet Atkinson – Spinster of this Parish, bequeathing her entire Estate and properties to her illegitimate son, George Arthur …
” George – that’s you ! ” I cried, ” Who’d ever have thought it? ”
The look of surprise on Atkinson’s face was a pleasure to behold…