“Now, Mrs. Wentworth. You said you wanted to make some changes to your will regarding your niece and nephew, is that correct?” The man speaking was a tall, broad chested middle aged man in a grey wool tailored suit and gray hair brushed in a comb over.
“Yes Rowland, that is correct. Can you please read out what I previously had down for Fredrick and Beatrix?” Mrs. Wentworth was a small woman with short white curls and an oversized cable knit sweater. Her face was lined, but her eyes were bright and sharp.
“Of course. To one Beatrix Wilhelmina Wentworth I bestow my jewellery, my Poiret gowns, the contents of my library, and my Vermeer paintings. As well has half the money left in my investments and bank accounts at the time of my death. To one Fredrick Fitzwilliam Wentworth Laurence I bestow my house and lands, my horses, dogs, and hawks, and all vehicles I possess at that time. As well as the other half of my investments and money in my accounts.”
“Oh dear, oh dear. That just will not do! It won’t!” Mrs. Wentworth stood up from the brocade settee she was seated on and began pacing back and forth. “Rowland, be a dear and draw up a completely new will.”
“Let me call my secretary and I will have my assistant draw up the necessary forms right way.” Mr. Carter’s hand shook and sweat began to seep into his shirt collar. He pressed the buzzer on his desk. There was a soft tap at the door and it swung open. A tall, slim woman stood in the doorway with a stack of papers. She glided into the room and deposited them onto the desk without disturbing the delicate glass paper weight or framed portrait of Mr. Carter’s family. “Thank you Cynthia.”
“Of course sir. Does Mrs. Wentworth desire any more tea or biscuits?”
“No no Cynthia, please leave us be.” Cynthia glided back out of the room and closed the door without a sound.
“What a nice pretty girl, what school did she go to?”
“Hmmmm oh Cynthia? I haven’t a clue. Somewhere out east I believe. Essex or something.”
“Well, lets get down to it. I want the house and all its contents to go to Beatrix.” Mr. Carter looked up from the forms he was looking at. Mouth open and eyes wide. “Oh don’t be startled Rowland. You can’t think I’ll give it to the boy after the rumours I’ve been hearing! Wants to tear down the whole place and sell off the land for developments! PAH. No sense of family history or preservation that boy, just goes where the money is! Not like Trixie. She knows the importance of family. She knows about preservation too. Good girl Trixie. Yes, she will get it all, except for the cars, horses, and dogs, the girl was always a terrible rider and has no interest in zipping around the countryside like young men do. Those will go to Freddy. Well. Are you writing this down? I want to be back in Derbyshire by tomorrow afternoon and no later! I still have to break the news to my niece and nephew over dinner later you see.”
“Oh.” Mr. Carter did not move a muscle or speak again.
“Rowland? What’s the matter?”
“Well just…. I was under the impression you didn’t speak to Beatrix… that’s all.”
“Oooh pffft. That was years ago. She went through a silly faze and dated a string of very unsuitable men. Luckily the girl is past it now and doing very well in academia, although as poor as a church mouse.”
“Ah yes of course. So the property and land goes to Beatrix and the cars and horses go to Fredrick.” Mr. Carter began filling out the paper work. His pen flying across the pages. “And ah what of the other items you had them down for? Should I change those as well?”
“No no, don’t worry a piece about those things. Freddy has no use for old clothing and jewellery, and no interest in old books. The rest can remain the same. I will of course be settling quite a nice sum on young Freddy as well, so don’t you dare feel bad for the boy. He’s to get 10 million pounds in investments which my husband left me and 5 million in cash. The rest of the 20 million goes to Beatrix.”
“Alright Mrs. Wentworth, I just need you to read this over and sign here, here, here, and here.” Mr. Carter flipped through the forms on his desk and tapped each empty line with his pen as he went through them. “Don’t get up, I’ll bring it around to you.”
“Here you go. I’ll be right back okay?”
“Yes, yes, off you go, attend to that important lawyerly business of yours.”
Mr. Carter shot out the door, this time the frame rattled when it closed.
“Cynthia! Cynthia!” She poked her head out of her office door. “Is Laurie in yet? Has he called?”
“No Sir, I haven’t seen him. I’ll call him.” Cynthia went back into her office and the click of the rotary phone could be heard in the hall. Mr. Carter took a handkerchief from his pocket and dapped his forehead and around his collar. He shook his hands a couple of times and paced up and down a dark wood paneled hall with tiffany wall sconces and a 18th century side table holding a Ming dynasty vase. The rest of the hall was lined with unmarked doors. There were a few large paintings adorning the walls as well. Turner, Cole, and Constable. They appeared to glow in the soft light. Mr. Carter’s eyes slid passed them as he continued to pace.
“Did you get a hold of him!?”
“No sir, his housekeeper said he had just left. On his way here.”
“Oh thank goodness. I must go see how Mrs. Wentworth is getting on, but please send him in as soon as he arrives.”
“There you are. I see you’ve made one small mistake here Rowland. You wrote down Fredrick Wilhelmina Wentworth Laurence instead of Fredrick Fitzwilliam Wentworth Laurence.”
“Oh I’m sorry. I will draw up another one and fix it.”
“Yes, yes, please hurry. My nephew will be here to pick me up at 3pm. I don’t want to be late for our dinner reservations.”
“Of course Mrs. Wentworth. I will take these to Albert myself and have him give me a new form.”
Mr. Carter dashed out of the room. The clock at the end of the hall read 2:45. Had the old bird already been here for 45 minutes?
Albert’s office was at the end of the hall. Mr. Carter rapped on the door and opened it. Albert shot up from a small desk with teetering stacks of paper surrounding him. A few fluttered to the ground with his sudden movement and he scrambled to pick them up. He was a tall lanky man with an ill fitting brown suit and pale orange shirt. He had freckles and floppy brown hair, despite this he was still rather handsome with a strong jaw and piercing blue eyes.
“Albert, hello, what’s this mess. Get Cynthia to tidy this up for you, would you? I need you to draw up Mrs. Wentworth’s will change forms again please, and be quick about it. She has to leave in 15 minutes.”
“Sir. I have an extra set, because I realized I botched up the first one, but only the one page. Do you need all the pages?”
“No. Just the last one.”
“Here you go, that one is fine.”
“Thank you Albert.” Mr. Carter grabbed the paper and went to the door, he paused with his hand on the knob. “She’s changed the inheritance of the house you know.”
“Has she then? Her poor nephew.”
“Yes. He’ll be angry I reckon.”
Mr. Carter gripped the door until his knuckles turned white.
“Well, I had better take these back then.”
“Here we are Mrs. Wentworth. Let me just fill it in correctly for you and you’ll be good to go.” Mr. Carter leaned over his desk and filled in Fredrick Fitzwilliam Wentworth Laurence on the form then passed it to Mrs. Wentworth.”
“Thank you Rowland.” The door swung open in the hall.
“Mr. Laurence, good day. Mr. Carter is just meeting with Mrs. Wentworth now, but he said you could go in.”
“Haha of Cynthia do be a dear and don’t let the old bird here you say that! She’ll be disappointed I need permission.”
“They’re just in here, huh?”
“Y-y-yes Mr. Laurence, sir.”
“Albert, hullo. What a greeting party I get today, eh? Lovely.” Laurie’s slender form slid down the hall way with ease. “What is it old chap, can’t have missed me already?” His words were barely audible even to Albert.
“No of course not, but I want to warn you. They’ve changed the will. I don’t know how or why, but Mr. Carter, he must’ve been in an awful state about it because he made a mistake when he was filling it in.”
“Yes, but I’m confused. You said your aunt and cousin didn’t talk, they were completely estranged. Didn’t you?”
“Did I say completely? I mean They don’t talk much…”
“Laurie! You lied?”
“No, no no… you see, the old lady. She’s fickle. They didn’t use to talk…”
“So you did lie.”
“Look here. I’ve got to go make things right with the old lady. She’ll be back tomorrow and she’ll put everything right, don’t worry Bertie. I promise.” Laurie glanced back towards Cynthia’s office, but she was gone. He lifted Albert’s had to his mouth and kissed it and lifted his soft brown eyes to Albert’s. Then he dashed down the hall and swung open the door to Mr. Carter’s office.
“Hullo hullo hullo dearest auntie.”
“Freddy. How good of you to come for me. I take it you have the car ready?”
“Sure do Auntie, boss, good to see you, sir.”
“Laurie.” Mr. Carter nodded to his young associate. “I just need to give these to Albert to finish up and file. And then I would like a quick word with you. I’ll send Cynthia in to take your aunt out to the car.” Mr. Carter ducked out of the room.
“Sure thing sir.” Laurie gave his aunt a kiss on the cheek then settled down on the sofa next to her.
“So what’re you bothering old Carter for?”
“I’ll let you know over dinner. I’m going to the car.” Cynthia appeared at the door.
“Hello again. Mrs. Wentworth, let me help you out to the car.”
“Hmph. I am perfectly fine on my own. Just as I told that cab driver this morning.”
“Cab driver! Auntie, don’t tell me you took a cab here! I told you to call me anytime you were down and I’d send you a car.”
“Well I did call you Freddy and you didn’t answer and you know Trixie doesn’t have that kind of money so I took a cab. It was perfectly fine. The man driving was very respectable.”
“Well. I don’t approve! Not at your time of life, not in your position!”
“It’s not up to you to approve or not. I’ll see you outside.” Laurie settled back on the couch to wait. Cynthia followed Mrs. Wentworth and helped her down the steps and into a waiting town car, despite her protests that she didn’t need help the old lady had plenty of time to pester Cynthia with questions.
“Are you seeing any young men Cynthia? Planning to marry? Hmmm?”
“Well not right now Mrs. Wentworth. I’m focusing on my career.”
“What? As a secretary? Not much in that I’d say. If you want a career go back to school and study something substantial like finance or politics. There are far too few women in those fields these days. We shouldn’t trust men with all the important decisions you know. That’s why I changed it you know.”
“Changed what Mrs. Wentworth?”
“My will dearie. I left most of my money and the house to Beatrix. But Freddy doesn’t know yet so don’t peep a word to him. I know he won’t understand. Trixy, she’s the smart one in the family, bookish, but smart. Not smart in love though. Hasn’t had luck there but that’ll be Freddy’s job. Keep the losers and con artists away from his cousin so she has a chance to make something of herself. He’ll enjoy that, I’m sure. Takes one to know one after all.” Mrs. Wentworth chuckled.
“Well here we are.” A young man in a chauffers’ uniform appeared beside the car.
“Good day Mrs. Wentworth.” He opened the door for her and helped her inside.
“Good bye. Mrs. Wentworth!”
“Now see here Cynthia. Make sure you don’t say a thing to my nephew, alright. I know he’s a charming young man too, but don’t you fall for his tricks. You seem like a nice young lady. Remember what I said about finance and politics, you’re slick and smart enough for either. You go make something of yourself. Goodbye dearie.”
The Chauffer closed the door at the end of her speech. Cynthia went back up the stairs. Mr. Carter’s office door was closed.
“She did WHAT?” Mr. Laurence’s voice rattled side table and vase. Cynthia caught it just in time.
Albert stood in the doorway of his office listening. His face was white and eyes wide. He saw Cynthia and gestured to her.
“It appears the old bird has bestowed the house on Beatrix and not Laurie after all. Look here.” He held out the papers to Cynthia. She took them from Albert and skimmed over it. It was just as the old lady said.
“Oh, poor Mr. Laurence. But doesn’t he have a small fortune from his parents anyway?” The voices in Mr. Carter’s office quieted to a low hum with an exclamation or interjection once in awhile.
“Look here Cynthia, promise you won’t say anything?”
“About what…” Cynthia was becoming the bearer of office secrets.
“Mr. Laurence, he’s broke. Made some bad investments. Took out a couple of bad loans too, he was counting on the property sales to boost his income and pay off his debts. And who do you think he was selling it too?” Albert tilted his head towards Mr. Carter’s door.
“Mr. Carter? No!”
“Not Mr. Carter, his brother-in-law, he’s a developer, but Mr. Carter invested, heavily. That’s why Laurie is getting such a pounding right now. I’ll be surprised if he keeps him on after this. Mr. Carter only took him as a favour to the old lady any how.”
“And how, pray did you learn all this? It’s quite the tale.”
“Laurie and me, we have a drink together from time to time.” Albert blushed and became very interested in his feet. Ah that’s why he’d rejected all her advances. Albert was in love with Mr. Laurence. The secrets kept popping up. Perhaps Cynthia would make a good politician after all.
“I see. Well what are we going to do about it?”
“Dunno, guess I’ll smooth things over with Laurie after his family dinner. He’s going to be beastly though, wish I hadn’t got myself involved.”
“Why don’t we go out for dinner instead, just as friends mind you.” Cynthia placed her had on Albert’s arm, he really was a handsome boy, although gawky and awkward.
“Really, just as friends, though, right?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll stop trying to seduce you Albert. You’re terribly charming in an awkward sort of way, and men can’t usually resist me.”
“Well then I guess we can have dinner then. I’m going to get back to it. Gosh thank you for listening. It really took a weight off my shoulders.”
“Of course. You’re a sweet boy, even if you’re queer. At least I won’t have to worry about you getting handsy with me after a couple of drinks.”
The door to Mr. Carter’s office opened a crack then stopped. Cynthia and Albert both looked at each other and Cynthia began moving towards her desk. The door opened a crack more.
“And don’t you come back here again! I don’t want to see your face after next week! You, you get your things out of old William’s office and I’ll notify your clients. And good luck finding a new firm to take you after what you pulled!”
“I’m sorry Mr. Carter. She told me it was a done deal, how did I know the old broad would go and change her mind!”
“You told me that your cousin and aunt were estranged! Well obviously that wasn’t true! Now out with you!”
Cynthia made it to her desk just as Mr. Laurence stepped out of Mr. Carter’s office.
“Well no doubt you heard all that Cynth. Sorry for interrupting your day. I’ll be by to clear out my desk after supper. You had better make sure he goes home I don’t want to be caught here alone with him. Good luck to you girlie, I’m sure you’ve got what it takes to make it in this world. I sure as hell don’t it seems.”
Mr. Laurence shoved open the door and ran down the steps to the waiting car. Albert appeared beside Cynthia a moment later and so did Mr. Carter. Mr. Laurence rapped on the window of the driver’s seat. The chauffer got out and handed him the keys. Mr. Laurence handed him a wad of bills in exchange and hopped in. Tires screeched as the car sped off.
“Well there goes that troublesome boy. I hope you break things off with him Albert. I don’t think you need to get yourself involved with trouble like that. A nice boy like you.”
“Oh don’t worry, I won’t be bothering with Mr. Laurence again sir.”