|Hendrick van Balen - The Judgement of Paris - WGA01228 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
The reviews of Breaking Faith, under the 'My Books' tab, might convince you to read the book, if you’re not already doing so.
Still along for the journey? Enjoy the ride.
I posted Chapter 1 on 13 January. Subsequent chapters have appeared each Friday, and will continue to be posted until all 50 have featured here. You can find those already posted via the archive; just search by chapter number. If you missed the start, you’ll find it here: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html
Read, enjoy, invite your friends along. I’m an author; I want people to read my writing, simple as that.
Monday 6th September
I drove Eric in relative silence to the solicitor’s office in Garsington. He was drawn and haggard, his hair unkempt, his clothes untidy and dirty.
‘You’re not looking after yourself, Eric.’
I understood his despair. He had lost his love to death; I had barely discovered mine only to have him snatched from me by experience.
Mum met us in the car park and the three of us walked the narrow, steep hill to the grey stone building where Dad’s Last Will and Testament would be read.
Mr Strunglove, which he pronounced “strun glove,” crouched behind his huge, document-strewn desk like a toad, blinking over the top of rimless bifocals. The wall behind him bore a cockeyed, framed print of Hendrick Van Balen’s “The Judgement of Paris.” It seemed an odd accessory for a solicitor’s office; its fleshy sensual heroes and pagan gods at odds with the dry dusty greyness of the room. I recognized it as twin to one in the library at Longhouse.
‘Good morning, Miss Heacham, Mrs Ashington, Mr Pandleston, please be seated.’
I sat in the central one of three identical hard wooden chairs ranged in an arc before his desk. Mum sat to my right, Eric to my left. Mum’s unstockinged thighs, exposed by her miniskirt, drew Mr Strunglove’s eyes throughout the interview. Clearly, his picture of half naked women would have served him better opposite his desk.
‘Sad times, sad times. Can I get my secretary to provide any refreshment?’
‘Just get on with it, Strunglove and let us get out of here.’
His glance at Eric, almost the only one he made, was brief and poisonous. I wondered what caused their mutual dislike.
‘Miss Heacham, Mrs Ashington?’
I shook my head and Mum smiled as she improved her position and declined the offer.
‘Very well. The matter before us, then. Mr David Lengdon was my client for much of his adult life and I pride myself that I grew to know the man as well as the client. He called me to the cottage, which he shared with Mr Pandleston, on the fifth day of August, the day preceding the occasion of your twenty first birthday, I understand, Miss Heacham?’
I nodded and he tore his eyes from Mum’s legs to see my acknowledgement.
‘Precisely. He told me then that he was to attend the celebration and I must confess I advised him against the visit due to his deteriorating health. No matter, Mr Lengdon was a man of strong opinions and he was wont to do as he would. The matter he wished to discuss with me was the drawing up of a new Will to replace that we had arranged when he first became a partner to Mr Pandleston.’ This time he made no effort to release his stare from Mum’s crossed legs.
I noted Eric’s look of distaste. ‘Get to the nub, man.’
For the briefest of moments, I feared Strunglove might accuse Eric of being impatient to learn of his bequest, but he thought better of it and continued his account as though it hadn’t been interrupted.
‘The new Will is the one I shall now present to you. It names the three of you as sole beneficiaries and was witnessed by someone I believe you all know well.’ He paused for effect. ‘Mr Leighton Longshaw.’ Again a pause, during which I wondered whether Mum was as surprised as I was. Eric, of course, already knew. ‘All necessary legal functions to permit the release of funds have been completed and, in accordance with Mr Lengdon’s express wishes, those of you who are to receive monetary bequests will leave this office with cash in hand, so to speak.
‘Mr Lengdon was very insistent that there should be as little inconvenience for his loved ones as possible and I have therefore been at great pains to obviate the need for any of you to have dealings with the financial and administrative houses concerned and to secure all necessary deeds and covenants in readiness for this day. It will not surprise you to learn that he also stipulated that his wishes be expedited within a previously agreed timeframe and I am proud to declare that I have arranged matters in such a way as to fulfil my functions with one day to spare.’
‘In other words you did the job you were handsomely paid to do. None of us is impressed, Strunglove, not even Mrs Ashington. Get on with it.’
Again, Mr Strunglove failed to look at Eric but he did flinch and remove his glasses to clean them on a cloth, which he took from the case on his desk. ‘That is the conclusion of my preamble. Mr Lengdon required that I merely read his Last Will and Testament to you, and I request that you hear it without interruption, if you please. Apart from my own advice, given for legal and technical reasons, the words are his own.’
He picked up the sheaf of papers and held it in front of him, I suspect to hide Mum’s legs from his eyes so he might concentrate on the document. He coughed, to clear his throat.
‘I, David Charles Longfellow Lengdon, being of sound mind and frail but competent body, do hereby declare my wishes for the disposal of my worldly goods upon the event of my death.
‘First, I wish my body to be burnt rather than buried. This is at odds with the wishes of my long time friend, Eric, but he understands my reasons. My ashes may go on the compost heap for all it matters to me, but should any of you wish, please spread them on the fields around your chosen spot for remembrance. I leave that entirely to you.
‘As to the wealth I have accrued during my lifetime, I wish it to be disposed of as follows to the three people named in full at the foot of this document.
‘Eric, you gain possession of the half of the cottage that is in my name. Dispose of it as you wish when you grow tired of life and decide to join me in death, where I believe we will merge as spirits more closely than we did as men when living. Keep whatever items of furniture remain in the cottage; it is your home and I have no wish to reduce your comfort. Please, have some personal effect, should you desire it, as a memento of me.
‘Matilda, you should have been my wife. As the mother of my child and the only woman I ever had as a lover, you brought joy and colour into my life and into my dying weeks and I thank you for that renewal of our early days of passion and wonder. Take whatever personal effects you wish for your memory of me. One half of the accrued settlements from my various insurance policies are to go to you, Matilda, as is the entire income from my pensions both occupational and private. This should provide you with adequate support and leave you free to lead your life as you wish. I loved you from our first meeting. I loved you all my life. I loved you, Matilda, at my death. Live free and well and remember me.’
Mum cried silent tears, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.
‘Into my life, almost at the end, came the most wonderful person I have ever known. Faith, you have been a source of enormous pride and joy to me. Your innocence and naivety, although the product of another man’s idiocy, have found a natural home in the goodness of your unselfish spirit. You are a strong, kind, loving, pure and wonderful woman and I have grown to love you more dearly than life itself. That you found me in spite of barriers I placed against discovery is testament to your determination and intelligence.
‘You were brought up by an amoral creature without shame who gave you rules to live by for his own dark purposes. The puritan ethic he claimed to espouse, for public consumption, is strong on blame, sin, punishment and guilt. It holds no place for love, mercy, forgiveness and joy. Inevitably, you have been indoctrinated into his view of the world. But I ask you, Faith, to be aware always that he brought you up within that strict code in order that he might control and abuse you. There was no spiritual subtext, no measure of worship, no ethical concern. He wanted you to live in fear, to obey without question, to do his bidding and appear to the outside world as a fool not worthy of attention. That you developed as you did in spite of his cruelty, his propaganda, his bullying and his perverse desires, shows what a truly remarkable person you are. Some day you will make a marvellous partner for your chosen man. I hope and pray you choose well and are not defeated by the foibles of fate.
‘I cannot be at hand now to guide you and would only advise you to take your time in choosing a mate. It is clear to me that one man in particular has caught your eye and, perhaps, even your heart. But I hope you sample more than one man, taking care to avoid disease and unwanted pregnancy. It is impossible to know the delights available by tasting one source only. I was fortunate in Matilda. Such good luck is rare and you, Faith, deserve the best possible opportunity of happiness. Do not squander your chances on the first man to turn your head. You do not, of course, have to savour every fruit in order to make an educated selection. A few well-chosen representatives should do. I will lecture you no more on that subject.
‘To you, Faith, goes the residue of my estate, being the remaining half of the insurance provisions, all stocks and shares and all material possessions that remain at my death. This should amount to a sum that will render you independent of other means of support. You should not need to work to earn a living, if you invest wisely, and you should be able to live comfortably for the rest of your life, inflation and politics permitting. I must pass on a further warning, however. Be wary of suitors. Once it is known that such a lovely and accomplished young woman is also relatively wealthy, you will become the target of treasure hunters who will try to beguile you with promises and charm you with intentions that may not be as honourable as they pretend. Beware those with neither proven talent nor independent means of support, Faith; they may persuade you that they love you but take care it is not your wealth that is their real objective.
‘You will note that no conditions or restrictions are attached to these bequests, in spite of Mr Strunglove’s attempts to persuade me otherwise. I lived my life as I saw fit and rarely took advice. That I made appalling mistakes is evident from the recently revealed history of events. Much as I would wish to prevent others making the same or similar mistakes, attaching conditions to these bequests would not prevent errors of judgement or alter actions or behaviour. In any case, such interference with free will is abhorrent to me and I feel I am the last person qualified to impose restrictions on others.
‘Finally, I ask that your grief be short and that you recall me, if at all, in the moments of happiness we shared.
‘Matilda, I bid you dwell not on the past few desperate weeks but on that final day of our young love when, reckless and abandoned, we feasted on each other’s unclad forms on that deserted frozen hill and felt only the heat of our love. Remember how we loved that day and, as far as can be ascertained, made with our love the daughter I now hold so dear.
‘Eric, look on our days under the summer sun, stripped to the waist and sweating side by side to build a wall to split the hillside into two distinct pastures and thus prevent a war between neighbouring farmers.
‘And, Faith, recall not the day I died but the day we found each other and I knew you to be the fruit of my love with Matilda. On that day, you brought more joy into the life of one dying man than any other single event before or since.
‘Know, then, that I love you all and wish you joy and pleasure in your futures. Live fully and believe you are the best a man could know. Farewell, until our spirits merge into the force that lives beyond the grave.’
Tears trickled down the cheeks of Eric and Mum. Even Strunglove seemed moved enough to wipe moisture from behind his spectacles. But, although I felt full of strong emotions, I could not release my feelings there and then in tears.
The solicitor gave us a short time to absorb Dad’s words and recover from them. ‘Mr Pandleston, your Deeds. I need only one signature, here, to conclude your part of the business.’
Eric scanned the title deed and signed his name.
‘I will post the document on once I have informed the Land Registry. Is that in order?’
Eric nodded curtly.
‘Mrs Ashington, I have here a cheque to cover the insurance bequest together with a receipt requiring your signature, and covenants you must sign to accept the benefits of the pensions, which will, of course, be paid directly to you in monthly amounts.’
Mum read the cheque and I heard her gasp. She examined it again and frowned, looking at Strunglove for confirmation.
‘It is correct, I assure you. Mr Lengdon may have made mistakes in his personal life as he himself admitted, but he was shrewd and well informed regarding investment. The sum represents the total of the insurances as detailed here, divided by two as required by the Will.’
Mum signed the documents and remained in a daze that combined her grief and shock with surprise at her material good fortune.
‘Miss Heacham, your father made no suggestion to you in his Will, but I think you should know that he conjectured that you might at some stage consider changing your surname to match your parentage. I will say no more on that, other than to offer you my services, free of charge, should you wish to make such a change.’
It was a thought I’d played with and, since I had no wish to bear Heacham’s name for the rest of my life, I looked at Mum for her opinion. She nodded.
‘Please do whatever’s needed to change my name to that of my father, Mr Strunglove. I’d appreciate that.’
He again tore his gaze away from Mum’s legs to look at me and nodded. ‘From you, Miss Heacham, soon to be Lengdon, I need four signatures, one of which is a receipt for this cheque. Should you require advice on investment, I am happy to act for you in that capacity.’
I looked at the figure and registered six figures preceding the pence but the actual amount didn’t sink in. ‘Did you advise my father on such matters, Mr Strunglove?’
‘I did not, Miss Heacham. Your father was a man who rarely took advice on any matter. However, he seemed to have a knack for selecting the most beneficial areas regarding investment. Perhaps you have inherited it.’
I signed the documents and picked up the cheque. Our business, it seemed, was concluded. I wanted to be out of that office. I stood at once and held out my hand to the solicitor. He rose and shook my hand, then, perfunctorily, Eric’s. Mum’s hand he seemed reluctant to release and she was apparently content at his extended contact.
We left together. Once beyond the office door but in a voice loud enough for Strunglove to hear, Eric touched Mum’s shoulder. ‘I reckon David’s advice about fortune hunters mightn’t apply just to Faith, Matilda, eh?’
Mum stopped in her tracks and looked at Eric speculatively for a second before she turned slightly to face the door of the office we had just left. ‘And I thought he was only interested in my body! Thanks for your timely observation, Eric; I’ll bear it in mind.’
We all wanted a spell of relaxation after what had been a strangely demanding ordeal but my first port of call was the local branch of my bank. That cheque was heavy in my bag and I wanted it secure.
It was only as Mum and I completed our paying-in slips that I realized how much I’d inherited. As Dad had said, I need never work again. Strangely, that thought increased the pressure and tension that had been building in me for the weeks following his death.
I’d thought independence would bring freedom and relief but it seemed to amplify my sense of responsibility to those around me. Because I was now in a position where I really could do as I wished, I felt obliged to look more closely at the effects my actions might have on others. How, I wondered, would Leigh react to the news of my sudden wealth?
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