The phone rang and an efficient secretary answered. “Good morning, Blackstock and Pittman Solicitors. Can I help you?”
It was an old lady’s voice which Miss Young immediately recognised. “What can we do for you, Mrs Langdon?”
Twenty minutes later, Mr Oliver Blackstock was sitting beside Mrs Langdon’s bedside. “What did you want me to do for you today?”
The old lady smiled. “I’ve thought about your suggestions and want you to write a new will for me. I know I don’t have much longer, so you better get it done quickly.”
He smiled to himself. This client had been thinking about how to do her will for a few weeks, ever since the doctors had said her cancer had spread into all her organs. She only had a few weeks left. He looked around. This was an enormous house, an old Georgian mansion that had been in the family ever since they built it in 1755. He had helped her with her plans. Now, all it needed was to write a coherent will. One which would satisfy the heirs and, to her mind most of all, ensure the future of the house itself.
The lady herself lay back on the pillows with a sneaky smile. “We will deal with each child first, then onto the smaller beneficiaries.”
“Right, what is your eldest son’s full name?”
“His name is Jonathan Charles, but we call him Charlie. He is married to Susan and their son is Roland Stephen. She is an overweight, nasty, money-grabbing woman and her tub of a son is not much better. He is always rude to his father. They have only been to see me a few times in all that boy’s fifteen years. She bosses my son around continually, and I know she is calculating how much they will inherit. She wants to pay off the mortgage and live comfortably without needing to work. I have a surprise in store there. You see that pink vase on the bureau there?” She waved her hand in its direction.
Sure enough, there was an elegant pink vase sitting beside bubble wrap, sellotape and a pair of scissors.
She continued, “You take that back with you now and keep it until you read the will.”
“What do you want me to put in the will?”
“Ah, well, that vase is to go to my son, but you must give it to him with no one present in the room and here is the letter I want you to give him at the same time. You might need to help him out the back of the building if my guess is right. You do have a back entrance to your building, don’t you?”
He persisted. “What is to go in the will?”
She continued to smile. “To my eldest son and his family, as none of you visit me. Much less phone me, I leave you the same, nothing.”
He looked at her, shocked. “How can you do that?”
“I was coming to that now. When you take that vase back to the office, you will do as I instruct you in this letter.”
He carefully tucked that into his notebook.
She continued. “If I am right, my son would be happy to leave and that ensures he gets the money to do with as he pleases. Please find out what the mortgage is and if he chooses to leave clear the mortgage plus the outstanding amount on their car. If he leaves, you can assure him the family will have no debts outstanding. If he stays, it will be up to him what to do with the vase.”
He shook his head. “You are a cunning old lady, Mrs Langdon. Now, what next?”
She gave a deep breath before continuing. “To my eldest daughter Antoinette Maria Marston, I leave the use of the top floor of this house. I will convert it into an apartment for her use until she dies, then it will revert to my youngest son, Percival Henry, or his heirs. She is so loud and annoying. I thought if she had to walk up all the stairs, it might make her a little less tiresome.”
He looked worried. The old lady was tiring. “Would you like to stop for a cup of tea or something?”
She nodded and pointed to the bell pull. He felt rather pretentious standing up and pulling the gold-coloured cord with an ornamental wooden end. He heard nothing and wondered if he should pull again, but restrained himself. He was glad he had as a few moments later, a pert maid bustled into the room. “You called Madame?”
He intervened. “I think Mrs Langdon is tiring, please could you bring her some tea?”
After they had both enjoyed their tea and delicious home-baked biscuits, he settled down again. “Is that all for your eldest daughter?”
She looked pensive, then gave him the two envelopes on her bedside table. He glanced at the names and also carefully placed them into his notebook. He knew these were the directions for who had which piece of jewellery. He had prepared the legal side of the letters earlier, leaving her the opportunity to add any personal words to each person.
She patted the bedclothes and, taking another deep breath, continued. “To my second daughter Lucy Sophia Welch, I leave the use of the second-floor apartment for her exclusive use until her death when it too passes to my youngest son Henry Percival. If he predeceases her, then it will go to his heirs.”
He asked, “I thought the house was one unit, not different apartments?”
She chuckled, “It is at the moment, but it all changes with my death. They have already passed the planning permission. The builder is on standby. Before I am cold, they will start the alterations. I allocated the funds to the bank. The building inspector must pass the work before he can pay the builders. If they do not finish the work on time, he will take penalty payments off the total owed. I have made sure the builders do the job and do it well. I have heard too much about cowboy builders.”
His concerns about the way the daughters might react to this high-handed management of their inheritance showed on his face.
She forestalled him. “You know what I went through when my father placed so many clauses into his will for my Mother and me to negotiate. I made it simple. The house stays in the family, but my married daughters get to enjoy it for their lifetimes. My jewellery is to be shared and that is their real inheritance. Believe me, if they wanted to sell their share, they would be rich.”
He went on. “Fine, onto the youngest son.”
She softened and smiled. “Ah, yes, my Harry. As you know, his proper name is Henry Percival. He gets the ground-floor apartment and the use of the garden. He also has to maintain the said garden. He married recently and I am sure his lovely new wife will help him look after their share of the property. In the very long run, the house will once again be owned by one person, but I hope he will allow the other families to stay in the apartments even if my daughters should die. Considering my age, I am sure they will all live to great ages as I believe it is the mother's longevity, which determines a person's lifespan.”
Not long after this, Dorothea Elizabeth Langdon died and the solicitor had to deal with the various tasks. The one he enjoyed most was handing over the pink vase. Johnathan, a tall thin man with prematurely greying hair. He blinked through his thick lenses, looking like a frightened owl, then said, “Do I understand my Mother has left nothing to my wife and this pink vase to me?”
“Well, sir, I understand the vase is the one you and she bought long before your marriage when you took her away. She looked back on that holiday when you took her on a camel to Petra. She said as it was called the pink city, she wanted a pink vase, not all the usual tourist tat. The Tucked in there is enough for you to escape your wife and son and start again or go back to them. She said the choice was yours.”
“But they need my salary to pay off the mortgage.”
“No, sir, your Mother’s instructions were I had to pay all the outstanding debts like mortgage and car in the event you choose to leave. Your wife will only need to pay the normal monthly expenses. I believe her salary suffices to meet those commitments.”
Jonathan looked pensive, reread the letter from his wily Mother and said, “Do you have another exit?”
The solicitor smiled. That was how the old lady expected things to go. “Yes, sir, if you would like to follow me. My secretary can order you a taxi.”