The room wasn't particularly spacious and the thick beams on the ceiling hanging a little above Theodore's head made it look even smaller. The decoration, before it was furiously altered, involved bookcases filled with leather-bound books and a collection of various academic tools, from pens and compasses to telescopes and astrolabes. Now, everything lied on the floor with most of the items beyond the state of a simple repair.
He approached the desk which had been briefly cleared from the debris and sat on the rocking chair as the man before him had suggested.
“My name is Jebediah Code” said the man and offered a wrinkled hand in greeting. “I'm glad you received my letter.”
Theodore shook his hand. He could now take a better look at the lawyer who bore the face of a formal man conducting business. Lots of questions popped into his mind at the moment, but at this state of temporary indecisiveness, instinct popped out the most obvious one.
“What is this place?”
The lawyer crossed his hands on the desk and cleared his voice.
“Mr Hold. In answer to your question I have good news and bad news.” and without asking which are the preferred ones to begin with, he continued. “The good news are, this manor is yours now.”
He was going through the papers inside a folder labeled A. H. Sage. “It is apparent, that the present building constitutes the last remaining asset of Mr Sage's wealth and even though his will was made a long time ago, it still indicates you as the legal heir to all his property and personal belongings. As a clarification, I would like to note that you were not among the names of acceptors mentioned in the will. In fact, your name appears nowhere among his legal contracts. It seems though, that you're the only individual directly related to Mr Sage who is still in life, thus becoming the sole beneficiary of his bequeathment.”
Theodore's expectations were instantly demolished by a bloody falling wreck of a bloody unwanted gift. Totally unprepared for such a turn of events, he tried to adjust his mind to the fact that bequeathments too, come in all sorts and sizes.
“But wait-- I thought this was your house. It's mine? This place is a mess” he said pushing a half-torn book named Constellations of Singular Vegetation away with his foot.
“You can refuse it of course. After all there is nothing other than this. It appears your uncle liquified his sizable property during the recent years for unknown reasons, leaving this obviously ransacked manor as the last place he owned and lived in. And yes, to get ahead of you these are the bad news.”
“Who would do such a thing?”
“I don't know Mr Hold. I can't say we've been in close touch with Professor Sage since he left the Botanical Gardens. It has been mostly correspondence concerning various assets' dissolution which got scarce during the years. If he had made new enemies I wouldn't know, but even back then he had always been a powerful and controversial figure. Rivals just seem to be drawn to such men. But for all I know the current situation could be just common thieves”
With each new piece of information the deal looked all the more unwelcoming to Theodore. His once rarely mentioned, distant uncle suddenly looked dangerously closer. It's one thing to inherit a ruin at the edge of a cliff and a totally different one to inherit enemies. Why would a common thief make such a mess? Were they looking for something? Perplexing conspiracy theories begun manifesting inside his head unveiling grim futures and large scale catastrophes. As far as he could remember, he had a penchant for suggesting the worse out of a situation and he was aware of this. He shrugged the horrific hypotheses away and focused on getting a clearer picture of his uncle's mysterious doings.
“And he lived here?”
“Most probably. His body was found near the conservatory at the back by a delivery man a few days ago. Heart attack was the case. He must have secretly moved here some time ago. The place was mostly considered abandoned.”
A mysterious last home for an equally mysterious uncle.
Theodore stared at the documents in front of him. The pen and ink the only things between him and his ill-fated, soon-to-be residence - he tried to balance the facts. His mother's voice came to his head repeating what he had heard many times before. “You don't seize the opportunities in front of your face Theodore. Always wanting to grab the highest apple, without busting your butt to climb the tree.” The job applications which were a bit out of his area of interest, the intriguing romances which never occurred for the most superficial of excuses, the potential he had let slip between his fingers for over-thinking everything. She had been quite on the spot, even though Theodore never admitted it while she was alive. This was his chance to leave behind unfounded fears and silly excuses and bite that delicious apple of his. He could still get some price for the land; even a lousy one would do. And there were bound to be salvageable things around here. A couple of old portraits he saw hanging irritatingly uneven, books, cutlery supposing there was a kitchen downstairs and maybe even the old chandelier from the hall could pass for an antique. Yes! Never look a gift horse in the mouth. Something's better than nothing, right? He wouldn't even need to stay here for long. Starting tomorrow he was going to scrutinize every single corner of this house and make the best out of this unforeseen situation.
“Excuse me, Mr Hold?” said Jebediah derailing Theodore's train of thoughts. “You haven't said anything for over a minute. There is a carriage waiting for me. Are you going to sign or not?”
“Yes, yes of course. I still have a lot of questions though.” he replied and casually inspected the legal form once more for the place to sign.
The lawyer didn't say anything, but instead lowered his head and raised his eyebrows pointing at the pen in front of Theodore.
He sighed, breathing the dusty air of the attic and the extended lessons in calligraphy payed off through an exquisite-yet-not-pretentious signature. It was done. A curious, self-realization feeling of standing before a crossroad took him over. He had chosen a path, leaving the alternatives behind, cast deep into the sphere of the unknown. Now he had to find the next stop and the ghosts of various abandoned possibilities would come back to haunt, like they always do.
“So that is all for me Mr Hold.” He said while hurriedly begun packing his things inside his suitcase.”I'm sure everything will turn out fine for you.”
Theodore found this an unusual thing for someone to say, but didn't comment on it.
“At least, can you tell me a little more about my uncle?”
“I really cannot. Your uncle kept his business closely to himself and the truth is I haven't seen him for over ten years. The only reason I'm here is because long ago I took an oath to the great Hobb J.P Ralford that I will abide by the law and I want to leave this profession with a clear conscience. Audacious Sage was my last client and you are the last person I speak to as a lawyer. If you came here ten minutes later I wouldn't even be here. The clock is ticking backwards to my retirement, young man. I don't have any more answers for you.”
He stood up from behind the desk and offered once more his hand for the necessary farewells.
“Goodnight and goodbye Mr Hold.”
The image of the impatient lawyer moved away in suspended time giving Theodore one more shot in gaining a last piece of information. From all the obviously important things like clues on what his uncle was up to, or possible people he might have recently been associated with, a sudden flash of an incoherent memory urged him instead to say:
“The delivery man who found my uncle. What was he carrying?”
Jebediah Code without turning around waved his hand and shouted while descending the stairs.