By Big Name Author Lesley Cookman
Ruth didn’t want much – a small memento with sentimental value – but she got more than she bargained for…
“It’s so sad,” said Ruth Purchase to Libby Sarjeant outside the village shop. “There was no one left for him, really.”
“Will there be a funeral?” asked Libby.
“Yes,” said Ruth. “Reverend Cole is doing it. I don’t think there’ll be many there.”
“I’ll be there,” said Libby. “When is it?”
“I think Mr Richardson said Friday.” Ruth frowned into the distance. “I’ll check this afternoon. The doctor and I have to meet him at the house.”
“Oh?” Libby’s antennae quivered. Her reputation as someone who regularly got involved in local mysteries was well deserved – or, as her friends put it, for being nosy. “What for?”
“Something to do with the will, I think. Although I can’t see why he would have left me anything.”
“He might have. After all, you were one of the few people to visit him in the last few years, weren’t you?”
“Yes, well, his family lived such a long way away.”
“Did you say his son was in Australia?”
“New Zealand.” Ruth nodded. “I don’t think he’s coming for the funeral.”
“Wow!” said Libby. “That’s a bit hard-hearted, isn’t it? He’ll need to put his dad’s affairs in order, sell the house and so on?”
“I think Mr Richardson’s doing that. He’s the executor.”
“Well, let me know how you get on,” said Libby, “and when the funeral is. I hate to think of no one being there for him. I’ll try and round up a few others.”
“That’s kind of you, Libby.” Ruth smiled. “I’d better get on. I’ve to see to Mrs Robbins before I meet the solicitor.”
Libby watched her go, long mousy plait bobbing against the old camel coat, before turning to walk back home.
“Such a nice girl, Ruth,” she said to her partner Ben later that afternoon. “I think she’s wasted being a home help to all those old people.”
“Libby, that’s a terrible thing to say,” said Ben. “She does an excellent job, and they all love her.”
“Old Mr Daniels didn’t.”
“If you didn’t like Daniels, why do you want to go to his funeral?” asked Ben reasonably.
“I don’t like anybody having no one there,” said Libby. “Besides, I expect he was curmudgeonly because his family had left him.”
“Or perhaps his family left him because he was curmudgeonly?”
“Well, I’m going to find out,” said Libby. “There must be other family.”
While this conversation was taking place, Ruth was trudging up the long driveway to Wellfold House, the grim Victorian edifice Edwin Daniels had left. Ruth didn’t have a car, and visited her elderly clients in and around Steeple Martin on foot. Occasionally her son tried to persuade her to buy a car, but she was unwilling to get into debt and he usually shrugged and gave up.
As she approached the door of Wellfold House, Ruth conceded she didn’t like walking half as much as she used to. Her feet hurt and her back hurt, and she was beginning to regret having agreed to come out here this afternoon.
Mr Richardson, tall and immaculate, opened the door. “Ah, Mrs Purchase,” he boomed. Ruth was too tired to correct the Mrs for Ms, and smiled weakly. “Come in, come in! Dr Bach is waiting in the library.”
Dr Bach, small, thin and habitually frowning, stood by the empty fireplace.
So, Richardson, what are we doing here?
“Ms Purchase.” He nodded briefly and turned to the solicitor. “So, Richardson, what are we doing here?”
“Shall we sit?” The solicitor hitched up his beautifully creased trousers and sat elegantly on the edge of a chair. “Under the terms of Mr Daniels’ will he would like us – all three – to have a memento from this house.” He looked assessingly at the other two. “I suggest we make our choices before the relatives emerge from whatever seclusion they are inhabiting and leave us only the dross.”
He speaks like a dictionary, thought Ruth. Aloud, she said, “But isn’t that cheating?”
Richardson looked affronted. “Not at all. In fact Mr Daniels made the suggestion himself, and I have laid out his selection in the dining room. Shall we take a look?”
The dining room, cold, gloomy and with a thick overlay of dust, hadn’t been used in years as far as Ruth could remember. On the table were laid a few items, which Mr Richardson indicated with a wave of his hand like a magician.
“See – a very nice Spode dressing table set – I expect you might like that, Mrs Purchase?”
Ruth looked at the delicate bowls, boxes and ring stand and wondered what on earth she would do with them all.
“Then there’s the antique leather and brass humidor.” He smiled kindly at Ruth. “Doubt if you’d want that. And the mirror…” Richardson almost dismissed this. A foxed mirror in a heavy old frame that Ruth had seen every time she visited Mr Daniels. “The frame is no older than 1930, I’m told, and worth very little.”
“You had them valued?” asked Dr Bach.
“Not properly,” admitted Richardson. “The humidor and the dressing set are both worth approximately two hundred pounds. I can’t see the mirror being worth anything like that.”
“Not exactly much of a choice.” Dr Bach frowned at the small collection.
Mr Daniels wasn’t a rich man. I feel we are lucky he has chosen to leave us all anything.
“Come, Doctor.” Richardson’s smile was wintry. “Mr Daniels wasn’t a rich man. I feel we are lucky he has chosen to leave us all anything.” He wasn’t looking at them as he spoke, and Ruth wondered if he was telling the entire truth.
She ventured to speak. “Did Mr Daniels suggest any particular item for each of us?” she asked. “Only I’d quite like the mirror. It’s like… well, like an old friend. I passed it every time I was here.”
Dr Bach and Mr Richardson both turned to look at her with surprise.
“Fine by me,” said Dr Bach. “Not sure I want any of them.”
Mr Richardson frowned. “I’ll have to enter it with the rest of the contents for probate,” he said.
“I thought you were going to bypass that problem by showing us these before the relatives… emerge. Wasn’t that what you said?” Dr Bach narrowed his eyes at the solicitor.
“Simply so that I can mark them for you – for us.” Richardson smiled sweetly.
“So I can’t take it now?” asked Ruth.
“I’m sorry, Mrs Purchase.” He shook his head sorrowfully. “I’ll let you know when everything’s settled.”
“When’s the funeral?” asked Dr Bach.
“Friday at two. I’ll no doubt see you there,” Richardson replied sharply.
Dr Bach surprised Ruth by offering her a lift to the funeral. “Thank you, Doctor, but I’m going with a friend from the village.” Ruth smiled and crossed her fingers. She’d better go and tell Libby she’d coerced her as chauffeuse.
“Anyway,” she concluded, as she followed Libby into her kitchen fifteen minutes later, “I thought I’d best tell you.”
Libby poured water from the kettle into two mugs, looking thoughtful.
“Dr Bach was right. I never liked him much, I prefer our Doctor Nigel, but in this case…” She removed teabags and pushed one mug towards Ruth.
“What do you mean?”
“The solicitor told you that old Daniels wanted you all to have a memento, which he was going to show you before – not to put it crudely – the relatives got their hands on it.”
“Yes?” Ruth frowned.
“Then he went back on it. He more or less told you what you were to have.”
“That awful collection of bowls and things,” said Ruth.
“Yes – although I expect it’s quite nice,” said Libby kindly. “But when you said you wanted the mirror, he changed his mind.”
“Not that, exactly,” said Ruth. “He just said he’d have to put them in for probate.”
“Which, of course, is quite legitimate,” nodded Libby. “But not quite what he was suggesting in the first place. Did he say anything was written down anywhere?”
“No. I suppose I thought it was…”
“Hmm. Well, I don’t suppose there’s anything you can do, but will you tell me if you hear any more about it?”
Surprised, Ruth nodded. “But it’s only an old mirror,” she said, following Libby into the sitting room. “And the son’s in New Zealand – I told you.”
“What’s his name?”
“Mark,” said Ruth in surprise. “Why?” But Libby would say no more.
When Libby and Ruth arrived at the crematorium on Friday, they were surprised to find the car park almost full.
“Relatives?” murmured Libby. “So much for one son.”
Ruth shook her head, bewildered.
“Do you think they’re here for another funeral?” she said.
As they descended the stone steps back to the lower car park, Libby managed to spot Dr Bach standing to one side speaking to a small, round man in a tail coat, and Mr Richardson towering over the heads of a crowd of sober suited and hatted men and women near the main door of the crematorium building.
“Ms Purchase.” Dr Bach appeared in front of them and Ruth jumped.
“Dr Bach.” She smiled a bit shakily. “This is my friend, Libby.”
Dr Bach smiled. “Yes, I know Mrs Sarjeant. May I introduce Sir Digby Trouville?” Dr Bach waved towards the little round man, who beamed and held out his hand. Bewildered, Ruth took it.
“I’m extremely pleased to see you,” he said.
I’ve heard a lot about you.
“Have you? Who from?” asked a bemused Ruth.
“Second-hand, I’m afraid, from Mark Daniels. As the heir of Mr Daniels senior’s estate, he wished for legal representation himself.”
Libby shot a shrewd look at Dr Bach, who stood to one side looking smug.
A shift in the crowd announced the imminent arrival of the hearse, laden with flowers, followed by a second car.
Sir Digby grinned and leaned forward conspiratorially. “Cousins.”
Libby grinned back.
After the service, Libby and Ruth tried to spot Mr Richardson, who seemed to have disappeared. Instead, a charming woman in a disastrous hat came up to them and asked them to join the rest of the company at Wellfold House. On the point of refusing, Ruth had to be dragged away by Libby who loaded her into the car and shut the door on her.
At Wellfold House, a magnificent buffet had been laid on.
“Come now, ladies,” said Dr Bach in Ruth’s ear. “Eat, drink and be merry. It’s all on old Daniels.”
“But…” began Ruth.
“It was Richardson, you see.” Dr Bach took two champagne glasses from a passing waiter. “He was being just a little over-controlling, didn’t you think? So Mrs Sarjeant here took the liberty of calling young Mark and asking a few questions.”
“She did?” gasped Ruth. “About the mementoes?”
Libby tried to blush and look modest…
“In a way,” the doctor continued. “Except he had no intention of letting the mirror go. However, luckily, Sir Digby – who Mark got hold of straight away – found the codicil. Funnily enough, Mr Richardson seems to have vanished.” His eyes crinkled at the corners.
At that moment, Sir Digby arrived carrying a badly wrapped parcel.
“Here’s your mirror, my dear,” he said, handing it over. “And the note that goes with it.”
Libby took the parcel while Ruth opened the note.
The joke’s on you, Purchase, she read. Passed this every day, didn’t you? Now you can carry on looking at it.
Libby was looking at a painting. “It’s Wellfold House!” she said.
“Hidden behind the mirror,” said Sir Digby. “Didn’t trust anyone, the old fool.”
“Look at the signature,” Dr Bach said.
Ruth read aloud, “J M W Turner.”
She looked at Libby. “The Turner?” Libby nodded. “Can I buy a car, now?”
“I should think you can give up work altogether!” said Libby.
Ruth was shocked. “Oh no, my clients depend on me too much.” She smiled. “But a car will make it so much easier!”
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