A shaft of sunlight, splayed across the room through an old sash window highlighting the unsettled dust hanging in suspended animation over the sparse furnishings. A Victorian mahogany table pushed against a wall, with copies of Country Life and Inside Gloucestershire, fanned across its surface. A few excruciatingly uncomfortable, wooden chairs lined up in front of a gnarled wooden desk, with a well-worn leather top.
The austere solicitor’s chambers in Cirencester seemed to have forgotten to move with the times. There was a strong Dickensian feel about it all, including the smell of musty, well thumbed-through books, which hung heavily in the air. It was a dark place, where Bob Cratchit might trundle in and say, two shillings and a halfpenny, Sir, with a timeworn edge to his voice. It was not the place to be howling with laughter, but hot salty tears streamed down Lisa’s face, and her shoulders heaved as she clasped her belly with both hands in a futile attempt to stop her muscles contracting.
The solicitor glowered at her from behind the desk after she snorted unattractively a couple of times. The outraged look on her mother’s face, her cheeks bereft of any colour, and her mouth contorted into the shape of an o was hysterical.
The angry faces of several members of Arthur’s so-called family. They hadn’t even bothered to come to the funeral service, and Lisa presumed they only crawled out of the woodwork at times such as this. Jeremy too, voicing incomprehensible words of disbelief. What a nerve. He had absolutely no right to be there.
The reading of Arthur’s Will was expected to be straightforward, and that he would dutifully leave his fortune to his grieving widow. A few minutes before her outburst, Lisa had been fighting to control her anger. Elizabeth, as usual, was the focus of her irritation. She’d arrived late, dressed like the Queen about to meet a head of state but, thankfully, not wearing a hat. She waited for the solicitor to pull up a chair for her and sat in wide-eyed anticipation, waiting for the reading to start, while stifling the odd theatrical tear.
Her mother should be ashamed of herself, she was Arthur’s wife in name only, and she had to convolute that by hyphenating Goldsworthy with Grant. She had barely seen or communicated with him over the last twenty years, and like the rest of the people in the room, had treated him as a complete enigma. Arthur had been a wheelchair user for most of his life. He was someone they never took time to go and see or let into their hearts. A man they all knew was loaded, who for the last twenty years had lived the life of a hermit, but wily, old Arthur had made sure he would have the last laugh.
‘There is a substantial amount of money…’
The solicitor kicked-off the proceedings gravely, peering at Lisa and the silently baying hyenas over the top of his bifocals. Everybody, except Lisa, sat to attention, visibly squirming with excited anticipation, but Lisa had drifted off.
Behind closed eyes, she was recalling watching the Millennium sunrise with Jack. She imagined him making love to her again, remembering the way he always whispered, ‘I love you so much,’ just before he…’
‘As you will all be aware…’ The solicitor’s voice boomed, bringing Lisa’s thoughts back down to earth with a feeling of total irreverence; how she hoped that the dear departed could not read the thoughts of the living.
‘As most of you will know, the manor house at Silkwoods belongs to Miss Lisa Grant, and was sadly, and almost entirely, destroyed by fire in 1997.’ Lisa flashed her mother an inflammatory look, which Elizabeth countered by tipping her head back slightly, closing her eyes and pointing her nose in the air as the legal monologue continued.
‘Mr Goldsworthy purchased the farm from Mrs Goldsworthy-Grant when they married in 1966. Since then, the cost of the land in the area has risen to around £10,000 per acre, and as the estate consists of 1000 acres of prime farmland, one can expect to receive a substantial amount of money, if indeed, the land was to be sold. The prize pedigree Dairy Shorthorn herd at Silkwoods is one of the largest in the country, and Mr Goldsworthy’s home-bred bull, Sir William of Silkwoods, better known as Billy, is a super grand champion. Such is the reputation of the Silkwood Dairy Shorthorns, and offers to buy the herd have already been received.
‘Because Mr Goldsworthy lived a relatively meagre existence in his later years, there is over one million pounds in the bank, and a similar amount in stocks and shares…’ It was Lisa’s turn to squirm as Jeremy excitedly clawed his fingers around the arm of his chair to steady himself, as the solicitor cleared his throat before dolefully delivering the next few words with awkward resolution.
‘The Estate of the late Mr Arthur Goldsworthy has been left in its entirety to, his step-daughter, Miss Lisa Grant. With the proviso that she spends it as she chooses, and not as her mother, Elizabeth Goldsworthy-Grant, commands.’
There were gasps from around the room, followed by an eerie silence. You could have heard a pin drop. In fact, something did, Elizabeth’s jaw. The solicitor soldiered on with a tinge of embarrassment creeping into his voice.
‘To the rest of you …’, there were synchronised gasps. ‘To the rest of you… Mr Arthur Goldsworthy leaves a crate of whisky, in Mrs Goldsworthy-Grant’s case… gin.’ A hint of solemnity once again crept into his voice, lowering his tone as he said the word, gin. He stopped momentarily to peer over the top of his bifocals to look at Elizabeth, who was fanning herself with a stray copy of Inside Gloucestershire, before continuing, ‘to remind you all of the times you chose not to take the time to have a drink with him.’
It had been at that point that Lisa’s stunned bewilderment exploded into uncontrollable laughter brought on by the expressions on the faces of everyone else in the room, which had so quickly changed from eager anticipation to dire bereavement. Arthur had the last laugh, but he knew Lisa would do the right thing. He knew she would slice up her inheritance wisely and discerningly.
‘Why?’ Elizabeth started, slamming the copy of Inside Gloucestershire on to the table. Her voice sounding like two invisible hands were clasped around her throat and applying pressure. ‘Why?’ she repeated, pushing herself up unsteadily on the arms of her chair while glowering at the solicitor. Jeremy too jerked out of his chair as if half expecting to catch Elizabeth, should she fall.
‘I mean… I was Arthur’s wife for God’s sake! Why on earth would he do that?’ Elizabeth demanded. Arthur had pre-warned the solicitor that Elizabeth would react with a display of histrionics, and he had no intention of losing his composure.
‘Mrs Goldsworthy-Grant, I am simply conveying the wishes of your late husband.’
‘Well, he can’t possibly have been in full possession of his faculties when he made that will. When did he make it?’ Elizabeth demanded.
‘It was on 8th October 1987, Mrs Goldsworthy-Grant.’
‘What? On Lisa’s birthday?’
Lisa dabbed her eyes with the cuff of her slightly fraying shirt, having managed to compose herself.
‘My twenty-first birthday actually, Mother.’
‘Your twenty-first? So, knew about this, Lisa?’ Elizabeth snapped. ‘It is an outrage! I will contest it.’ Elizabeth was distraught and shed a few real tears as Lisa rose to her feet to face them all.
After delivering Arthur’s eulogy, Lisa had found a new level of self-confidence, and she knew that the words she was about to deliver would not only come out in the right order but that she would be saying them with a degree of authoritative calm.
‘No, Mother, you are quite wrong, I had absolutely no idea. But why on earth would you want to contest it? What possible justification could you have for doing so? You were his wife in name only. You never loved him. You never spent any time with him. You rarely bothered to ask how he was. You fell in love with his bank balance, and nothing else.’ For the first time in forty years, Lisa noticed her mother’s cheeks flush, guilty as charged.
‘It was the same when you, allegedly, fell for my father and there is no doubt in my mind that you were well aware of his sexual preferences, but it didn’t put you off seducing him to get your hands on his money. Using me as the embryonic me as a pawn, I believe. How could you stoop so low? So… surely, even you… as someone who has been in an extra-curricular relationship with Jeremy since before I was born, can understand why Arthur chose me as his sole beneficiary? It’s very simple, Mother, I was the only one who loved him, that’s why.’