Shoulder-deep in an occupied grave, a laborer tossed a spadeful of soil on the growing pile and muttered about job prospects in the city. It was ridiculous to think he ever could have been an engineer or scientist. He couldn’t afford to build a bar or hotel. He paused for a moment to consider. Maybe he could be a squire, he thought, before giving a cynical laugh and flinging more dirt out of the grave.
An autumn chill was descending, but the laborer’s toil prevented him from feeling it. The afternoon was growing long, and he had unearthed three decomposing caskets with skeletal remains that day. The undertaker would be along anytime now to transfer them to the larger cemetery for re-interment. The names on the headstones were too eroded to be legible, eaten away over the years as they were by the harsh New Babbage air and rain.
This cemetery had been present for many years longer than the large one near City Hall, and not many people realized it still hid behind the massive Brunel Hotel. It predated many of the buildings in the city, and there were stories about unearthly goings-on in this place. The laborer wasn’t entirely without superstition, but he had a job to do. Even the pittance he was being paid would help his family through the winter.
As he neared the level where he expected to hit another patch of mouldering wood, his shovel instead recoiled against something hard. He scraped away some of the soil covering the object and could only make out its black surface. He tapped it a few times for good measure and decided that it didn’t sound hollow, but he couldn’t imagine what it would be.
“What do you have there?”
The undertaker’s deep voice startled the laborer. He paused, leaned against the shovel and tipped his hat back.
“Beats me, guv. Box o’ some sort’d be my guess.”
“Well, let’s have a better look, shall we?”
The laborer went back to work, digging around the object, which turned out to be about a foot square. As the hole grew deeper it became apparent that not only was it square, it was cubical. The laborer leaned his spade against the wall of the grave and leaned down to lift the object, which didn’t give.
“Oi, this ‘ere is ‘eavy! Lend me an ‘and, wouldya?”
The undertaker’s lips curled back in disgust at the thought of getting his hands dirty, but his curiosity had been piqued. He took off his frock coat, rolled up his shirtsleeves and hopped down into the hole.
Together the two men struggled to lift the object, which, for being of relatively small size was disproportionately heavy. They could tell, however, that the thing *was* a box, held together by heavy brackets at each corner and edge. Perhaps whoever had left this object had actually constructed it in place. The thought intrigued the undertaker even more.
After finally laying a plank at an angle into the bottom of the grave, the undertaker and the laborer were able to slide the box up onto the ground. It sat menacingly in the evening dim, and the laborer struck a match to ignite a lantern wick. The two of them knelt next to the object, the lantern casting an eerie glow around the two figures in the graveyard. In his anticipation to explore the object, the undertaker forgot about the fact that he was sullying his trouser knees on the ground. With his hands he began to brush off the dirt remaining on the box, and felt an area that was slightly raised.
The undertaker beckoned for the laborer to hand him the lantern, which he held low to the box on the ground. The raised area was a small burnished plaque engraved with some sort of inscription. He rubbed furiously at the words to clear them, and squinted as he tried to make out the engraving.
For a few moments there was silence.
“Hmmm…” he said finally, and sat back on his haunches. “This is….most peculiar.”
He handed the lantern back to the laborer, who rushed to see if he could make out the inscription. He stood up and shrugged, not knowing the significance of what he had read. Based on tales told in hushed voices, stranger things than a box with a name on it had certainly come out of this ground. He wasn’t going to waste any time thinking on it.
The undertaker let out a sigh and stood, dusting off his trousers and hands. He picked up his coat and draped it over his arm.
“The wagon will be along to pick up these remains at any time,” he said, motioning to the boards and bones lying on the ground a few feet away.
“Get the driver to help you put the box on as well, and take it to Rutherford House. I shall pay a visit to Ms. Ginsburg and inform her of this discovery. She is our employer, NOT the aunt or that simpering fool, Palmer.” The undertaker spat out the solicitor’s name with a note of contempt.
“Ms. Ginsburg owns this land, and the box therefore belongs to her. It will be her problem to solve.”