Every time summer vacation came round, the parents were in the habit of sending their two children to the country, far away from the bustle of the city. So every July, Julien and his little sister Céline found themselves at their grandmother’s house.
She lived in a very large, old house. It was like the houses you saw in certain horror films where the poor owners are haunted by ghosts and all kinds of monsters.
Céline, like all little girls at her age, had a lot of imagination and it was not unusual for her big brother Julien to see her rush into his bedroom during the night, asking him in a weak, trembling voice if she could sleep next to him because she had heard a noise.
Yet the house was not as frightening as all that. Julien actually found it very peaceful, because he had the space and calm he did not have the rest of the year in Paris. He could rest and enjoy playing with Céline who suggested a new game to him every day.
That day, they were pirates looking for treasure. In the huge garden, on a narrow wooden boat they had built together, she was the captain and he was the cabin boy. She wore a black hat with a skull on it and he had a simple white bandana. They had been sailing for days over a wild, treacherous sea when something suddenly took shape on the horizon.
“Captain!” shouted the sailor. “Land ahoy!”
“Perfect!” replied the Captain. “Let’s look for the treasure!”
They pretended to disembark onto a strange island as they left the boat. Céline studied the map she had drawn, with an X pencilled at the spot where the riches so lusted after by the bandits of the sea could be found. She tapped the X with the tip of her index finger and then advanced over the grass. Julien followed her with a spade over his shoulder. Suddenly, she stood stock still, then jumped up and down on the spot.
“The treasure’s here!” she exclaimed. “Dig! Dig!”
“Yes Sir, Captain!”
Julien went up to his sister. He was just about to swing into action when he suddenly stopped and stared with eyes open wide. He had caught sight of a cross on the ground... They hadn’t actually made one before they started playing pirates! Fascinated, he stuck the spade where the symbol was and dug a hole that got deeper and deeper with every clod of earth removed. Were they really going to come across an object of great value? He stuck the spade in once more and it hit something hard. He dropped the tool, knelt down and delved into the hole with his hands, bringing up a little box, which he put down next to him, watched all the while by his very excited sister.
“Open it! Open it!” she ordered.
His heart pounding, he gently opened the box. Disappointment was written all over the captain’s face.
“Aaah... there aren’t any pieces of gold...”
Instead, they could see a letter. Julien took it out and looked at it closely. The envelope had turned yellow and it was addressed to Thérèse... their grandmother?!
“Come on!” he shouted to his sister who, meanwhile, had thrown her hat on the ground in disappointment. “The letter’s for Grandma!”
“Grandma?!” she repeated in surprise.
They ran across the garden as fast as they could, abandoning everything, and rushing to the front door, they flung it open. They ran through the house in search of their grandmother, finding her at last in the living room, sitting in an armchair, reading a book. She put it in her lap when she heard her grandchildren coming.
“Grandma!” they shouted in unison. “There’s a letter for you!”
“Oh, is there?” she replied.
She took the envelope in her hands, narrowed her eyes, and gave a cry of astonishment as she recognized the handwriting: it was that of her husband who had died ten years ago!
“Where did you find it?!” she asked in amazement.
“In the ground in the garden,” Julien told her.
“And it was me who found it!” announced Céline very proudly.
She opened the envelope and slid out a piece of paper. She read what was written on it. It was one of the many declarations of love her husband had written to her and hidden all over the house, intending her to find them by chance.
It was a secret game her loving husband had invented to charm his beloved every day. Except that she had never thought she would find one of them buried in the garden! She savored every line from her dear, long-departed husband, tears running down her cheeks.
“Oh!” said little Céline, worried. “Are you sad, Grandma?”
“No,” she replied. “I’m happy.”
Then she kissed them both gently on the forehead. Céline was too young to understand, but Julien realized then that they had found some real treasure.
Translated by Wendy Cross