The old man sighed audibly as he shuffled into the dark, cavernous room. In his right hand he held an old cane, on which he leaned heavily as he moved forward. The other hand held a brass candlestick. A warm orange glow emanated from the wick of a taper, yet it barely cut through the room’s musty darkness. Under his left arm, he held a leather bound book, a ledger, its pages only recently filled with fresh ink.
The old man was alone in the house. It was a rare thing now. The family was always there, would never leave him alone. But this day he had to be alone. The final task demanded solitude. And yet, despite the convenient absence of the others, he pushed the door to the old room closed. Total solitude.
The old man moved slowly, almost blindly, into the depths of the room, groping into the darkness with the candle, as a blind man might grope with his cane. The room was filled from floor to ceiling with the accrued belongings of a long life, well spent. There were trunks filled with well-tailored clothes. Trinkets from the far reaches of the world stacked neatly in the darkness as memories are stacked in the mind. The old man couldn’t help but smile as he passed the wealth of his worldly belongings. He, in spite of his scientific mind, wondered if such inanimate objects had the capacity to remember. And if they did? Oh, the stories they could tell! The history they’d seen! But the thought passed by as a rain shower might.
The old man moved on, with pain, toward the far corner of the room. There was always pain now. He had lived with it for years, but now it never wavered. The power of the mind could no longer defeat the maladies of the body. He no longer felt refreshed after a good night’s sleep. The old man was eighty four, and time was growing short. Night was falling fast. He had seen enough death, as any man so long lived would have, to know when it was approaching. And it was. But he had one last task to perform. Then he would be ready.
Finally, with difficulty, he reached his destination. It was in the farthest corner of the room. The most remote spot in the entire house. In that corner, sat a large chest or trunk. It was wooden, covered over with stretched leather, with brass fittings fastened in the corner, and for the hinges, latch, and lock. The trunk had been housed in the room for nearly five years. And in that time it hadn’t been touched. Not once. The old man was the only one who knew its contents. Or its purpose.
He set the candlestick down on a table near the trunk, and pulled an old key out of his pocket. He placed an old weathered hand on the lid, and wiped away the five years’ collection of dust. He slid the key into the lock, and with a creak and a groan, heaved it open.
The old man gasped as he took in the contents of the old trunk. Of course he knew what was in it. He had seen it, twice before. Even for this man of a most worldly and scientific mind, it was a breathtaking sight.
As the lid was raised, the dark, musty room seemed to grow ten times brighter. No, a hundred times brighter! Flecks of golden candlelight dance around the room, gleaming from the facets of thousands of sparkling gems. And that was not all! Well-polished coins of gold and silver sent beams of yellow firelight bouncing to and fro across the walls and ceiling.
The old man smiled at the sight. The treasure he beheld could support his children, and his children’s children, for untold centuries. But it was not to be. This treasure was not for them. They would never even be permitted to know of its existence. It was too dangerous a thing to involve the people he loved. And this precious conflagration wasn’t meant for any one man or woman. Or even the combined generation of an entire family line. These precious materials had greater responsibility. And a higher purpose.
He took one more moment to gaze down at the wondrous trinkets, and then got down to business. He took the leather bound ledger in his hands, opened it, and thumbed through the pages, stopping a few times to admire his fresh penmanship.
There was a sadness in the old man’s eyes as he read over the words. He had made the written word his life’s work. He had put pen to paper, more times in his long life then even the best mathematician could hope to count. But this, these words in this ledger, were his masterpiece. And no one, with the exception of a carefully chosen few, would ever lay eyes upon it.
With a proud smile he closed the ledger, and set it in the trunk, on top of its extraordinary contents. He closed the trunk, and locked it securely, knowing that he would never see the inside of it again. His work was nearly done.
Benjamin Franklin had only one thing left to do, before his glorious plan could be set in motion. It was not a happy thing, but he was ready. And it was a simple thing, taking very little exertion. All he had to do, was die.
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