The Missing documents

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My grandmother Lotte Langden  had a  suit pending in  1920 over some of her -estate holdings in Wisconsin.  Her lawyer Herbert Marshall asked her several times for a certain document fixing the debatable borders   of the estate  in litigation but Grandmother stubbornly refused to turn  over the paper supporting her claims. “I’ll hold on  to this  paper if I die over it,” she stated. “There is  no use  risking  it out of my hands.”

That July she did die, suddenly one  evening at  supper while the whole family was present. Now Mr.  Marshall had not only the  pending suit but also the settlement of   her estate on his busy hands. We searched all over the  house  for  her legal papers but without success.

The lack of the  critical document deprived Mr. Marshall of his  most potent argument in  court, but along with the rest of her  documents  it  was missing and we  feared Grandmother had  taken the  secret of its hiding place  with her to the  grave.

On the  fourth day after  her death Mr. Marshall had joined  the family for dinner and was  lamenting  the old  lady’s  stubbornness and his futile  fight in court. Dinner was  being served  by our  maid Berthe,  who had  been with the family for forty years.

In the midst of the meal  our conversation was interrupted by a loud scream from Berthe  followed by the sound of shattering dishes in the hallway.  We rushed to the hallway through which  Berthe passed on her  way from the kitchen and found her  standing among the ruins of a  sumptuous supper,  white and trembling,  pointing toward the high backed chair that stood next to the old-fashioned grandfather clock.

Grandmother had  so often rested  in this  chair  after she came in from a walk or  from puttering in her garden that the family jokingly referred  to it as her “throne.”

When Berthe finally was calm enough to talk coherently  she claimed that as  she passed through the  hallway with the  tray of food she had  seen Grandmother sitting on her  “throne,” gently stroking the grandfather clock. We talked  excitedly about this  but Mr.  Marshall called Berthe an  hysterical old fool and turned the conversation to more mundane matters.

Perhaps we might have forgotten the incident if we had  not been forcefully reminded of it  the very next evening when the same thing recurred. When  Berthe was walking through  the hallway she again  saw Grandmother seated on  the chair and again  she dropped her tray.

The matter grew frightening when the  same thing was  repeated on the third night.  The excitement only added to  our concern over the  pending trial that would begin in only two days now.  Mr. Marshall  was running in circles trying to  find either the missing document or some other proof that  would clinch the case.

After the third appearance of Grandmother’s apparition,  however, Grandfather William Langden, a cool practical man who  at first attributed Berthe’s visions to her long, close relationship to the family, said to us:  “Listen, my  dears, I wonder-perhaps it’s ridiculous  but no harm can  come from it- If Grandmama did not want to tell us  where her missing papers are. She  stroked  the clock-let’s search within.”

We did, and behold! In a  hidden double back behind  the swinging  pendulum were Grandmother’s papers! The suit was won and  Berthe received  an ample  reward in addition to her set-out share in Grandmother’s will.

And never again  to her set-out share in  Grandmother’s will. And  never again was  Grandmother seen to occupy her “throne.”

Paul C.  Langden (as told to  Hereward Carrington)

Chicago, Illinois

April 1974

 

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