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Tales of Every Day by Don Roxburgh - HTML preview

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THE INHERITANCE.

 

-1-

 

My whole life was changed one Tuesday afternoon.

Kylie had just come home from school and was having a snack ‘to keep her going’ before dinner and I was finishing up a letter to my cousin in Australia. (Tuesday was my day off, because I work Saturdays) Then the front doorbell rang.

Now in our house, the front doorbell doesn’t ring very often. Everyone knows to come in the back door, which is always unlocked - when there’s someone in, that is - and we don’t get a lot of door-to-door salespeople here. So, it was quite a surprise to hear the doorbell.

“I’ll get it!” called Kylie. I heard her going to the front door in her wooden sandals and the key turning as she unlocked it. Then there was the indistinct sound of someone talking, followed by Kylie clattering along the hall and into the dining room where I was. “It’s for you, Dad,” she said. The man at the door will only talk to you.”

Unable to figure out why on earth a stranger should be at the door and wanting to talk to me, I made my way along the hall to the front of the house. A man was standing there, but that was all I could make out through the patterned glass.

I opened the door, and said to the man, “Yes?”

The visitor replied, “Are you Stephen Charles Morton?”

“Yes, I am,” I replied, “but who wants to know?”

“Excuse me for being formal,” said the man, “but before we can proceed, I will need to see some proof of identity.”

“Just what is all this about?” I asked. “I’m starting to get a bit annoyed.”

“Well, if I could come in, then ...” he began.

“I’m not in the habit of inviting people who knock at my door and won’t tell me their business into my house. Just what is your problem?” I demanded.

I suppose I should have been ready for the reply. The whole scene was playing out like a scene from a film. However, I hadn’t seen it coming.

The stranger said, “I’m sorry, sir. I can’t tell you anything more without proof of identity. I have been given strict instructions to be sure that I am talking to the correct person before I divulge the contents of this package I have for you.”

There was nothing else for it. I left the stranger waiting on the front step again, while I went to find my passport. Fortunately, I am a tidy person, so it didn’t take long. I presented it to the man at the door, who looked at it, returned it to me and said, “Thank you, Mr. Morton. I am now in the position of being able to deliver to you the package I have, along with a message. May I come in?”

I demurred at this, the man having told me nothing about himself or having shown me any identification. He then produced his passport, which identified him as Martin Jones, along with a visiting card, showing that he was with a respectable firm of solicitors in London. I wasn’t completely convinced, but I let him in.

As we entered the lounge, Mr. Jones said, “This concerns your daughter, Kylie, as well. It is necessary for her to be present as well. I take it she was the one who answered the door.”

Accordingly, I called Kylie to come in, then offered Mr. Jones a cup of tea, which he declined. “I’d like to get right down to business,” he said. “I have come a long way to deliver this package to you today.”

I looked at the packet in Mr. Jones’ hand. It didn’t seem unusual, but the solicitor’s words seemed to imply that it was somehow valuable. I wondered what could possibly be in it.

“I’ll come straight to the point, Mr. Morton,” said Mr. Jones, interrupting my musing. “You are almost certainly unaware that you have, or rather had, an uncle in Sussex.”

“I definitely didn’t know anything of this uncle,” I replied.

“As we thought. Your uncle had had no dealings with your father for almost twenty years; since he married your mother, that is. It was not a happy parting of the ways, I understand. However your uncle, who was the Honourable Charles Edward Morton, has now, unfortunately, passed away, leaving behind neither widow nor heir. The provisions of his will mean that the nearest blood relative on the male side will inherit all of Charles Morton’s property.”

The solicitor paused to clear his throat. He went on, “However, there are some conditions. The inheritor must take up residence within a year of Charles’ demise; he must be married, and he must take up the responsibilities as Lord of the Manor of the village which comes as part of his estate. I understand that the reason for the estrangement between your father and your uncle was that he refused to take on the requisite burden, leaving the estate to your Uncle Charles.”

“Didn’t my uncle have any children?” I asked.

“Unfortunately not. They did have one son, but he passed away through meningitis when he was in his teens. Charles’ wife herself passed away not much later; they say she had lost the will to live.”

“And did my uncle not remarry?”

“No, he didn’t.”

“But what of the condition that he must be married?” I asked.

“The full condition is that, if the heir has not reached the age of majority, he must have a guardian until the age of 21 or until he marries, whichever is sooner. If he is an adult, he must be either already married, or marry within a year of taking up his responsibilities. Thereafter, if he divorces or his spouse passes away, before he has been fifteen years as Lord of the Manor, then he must remarry within the year.”

“So, because my wife is no longer with us, if I wish to accept the inheritance, then I must be married again in the next twelve months. Is that correct?”

“In essence, that is correct,” Mr. Jones replied.

“What would happen should I decline the inheritance?”

“Then, I am afraid, the Manor would in all probability be broken up. There are no other surviving male relatives of a close enough degree. I might add that there are several property developers who are at the moment rubbing their hands in the expectation of a forthcoming sale, so that they can buy up the land cheaply and make a lot of money building an expensive new housing estate, which would be devastating for the local community and, I fear, costly to the environment.”

“You’re asking a lot of me and my daughter,” I said. “I’ve lived all my life in Northumberland. I’ve hardly ever been to London, and know nothing of the south-east.”

I turned to Kylie, who had remained dutifully silent until then. “What do you think?” I asked her.

“Well, Dad, it sounds a bit scary, but also like a big adventure. I wouldn’t mind going to live in a big country house, but I think I’d miss my friends at first. The biggest thing for me is this talk of you having to find another wife. I miss Mum, and don’t know if anyone could replace her. On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind the chance of having a little brother or sister. I don’t know. It’s for you to say, Dad.”

I turned back to Mr. Jones. “How long have I got to make up my mind - and if I decide to say yes, by when do I have to be married?”

“There are no specific provisions on that score. No action will be taken towards breaking up the estate before a year from this date. However, you will need to leave enough time for all the legalities to be completed, so I would recommend that you come to a decision within nine months, one way or another. Now, I am to hand over to you this package, which contains copies of your uncle’s will, the charter of the Manor, a brief history of the Estate, a personal letter to you from your uncle, written shortly before his demise, and a cheque for £10,000 which represents a special bequest from your uncle.”

He handed the package over to me, and insisted I checked the contents, before having me sign a form to say that I had received it. Mr. Jones then gave me his business card and told me to be in touch as soon as I made my decision and was ready to meet the terms of the will. I promised to do so, and he took his leave, having once again declined any refreshment, saying that his train would leave in just 45 minutes, and he didn’t want to miss it.

 

-2-

Following the solicitor’s visit, I took a deep breath - then we both dissolved into giggles. “Should I make a list of possible brides for you?” Kylie asked once we had calmed down. That set us off again, but before long, reality kicked in. I began to wonder just how and if I could find the right person to take the place of my lost bride in both mine and my daughter’s lives.

Kylie and I had a serious talk after that, and we both agreed that we needed to be very careful just who we told about the incredible situation we found ourselves in. We decided to tell nobody for at least 24 hours, not even my mother, who lived nearby and would certainly have to be told - and who probably already knew something about the Manor in Sussex.

That night I had a dream, or more correctly, a nightmare. I was being pursued by a number of young women dressed in bridal gowns, all saying, “Take me, take me!” Just before I woke up, I tripped and fell, allowing these women to catch up with me. First one took hold of me, and said, “I’ve got you. You’re mine!” Then another grabbed me, and another, until I was down on the ground, being smothered by the brides. I woke up to find myself completely tangled up in the bedclothes and covered in sweat.

 In the morning, Kylie and I decided to tell my mother the news, that Kylie would tell only her best friend Amy, swearing her to secrecy, and I would tell my cousin in Australia and my closest colleague from work, Ron Fischer. He and I have been friends for years, and when I lost my Julia in the accident, his wife kept bringing round meals for us, and cleaned the house - without being asked. Perhaps I should mention here that I work in a small factory as a Supervisor. It’s the main employer in this small town, though, and so just about everyone knows me.

I had my opportunity to tell Ron during our lunch break. He was not surprisingly first sceptical then absolutely gob-smacked as the implications of the news sank in. “How are you going to find a woman who can take up the task of being lady of the Manor up here in the wilds of Northumberland - that’s always supposing you take on the challenge?,” he said.

“I don’t know,” I replied. In fact, I’m not sure whether I even want to start looking. I’ve got a good life here, Kylie and I are happy, so why disrupt things?”

“Well, there are a few good answers to that,“ said Ron. “For one thing, there’s the chance of a lot of money and the opportunity to do something different. Then, there’s the responsibility of keeping the community going.  Also, think of the possibilities that will open up for Kylie - top schools, the chance to travel and see places...”

“Yes, I know all that,” I said, cutting him off in mid-sentence. But would I be right to do this - and if I do take up the challenge, then how on earth could l know if any woman I choose as my potential wife is going along with me for the money, or for love? Also, in the back of my mind, it still feels like a betrayal of Julia.”

“Only you can decide that, but you can’t have too long to make your mind up. A year isn’t a long time to meet the right woman, get to know her and for all of you to make the move down south. Personally, I don’t want you to go, but I can also see you as being a very good Lord of the Manor. You’re really good with people - like you were born to it, which I suppose in one way you were.”

“That’s another thing I keep thinking about,” I said. Why did my dad decline what should have been his duty? Was he scared he’d fail, or was there something else? I expect my mum could shed some light on that mystery. Why did neither of them ever tell me about that part of their past?”

“Look, Stephen,  I can’t give you all the answers. Your mum may be able to fill in some gaps, but life is much different now from what it was when your dad was young. Remember, you’re forty years old now. Your clock is ticking. I say, grab this opportunity.”

“Thanks, Ron. I’m going round to mum’s this evening, and then I’m going to try and get my head round all this.”

“Just one more thing, before we finish,” Ron added. “You could always try praying about it, and find out the Almighty’s opinion!”

That was typical of Ron, one of the stalwarts of the local chapel. He never missed an opportunity to mention God - in a nice way, though.

When Kylie came home from school, I asked her how her friend Amy had reacted about the news. “She totally freaked,” Kylie answered. “Amy said that was the weirdest news she’d ever heard and she’d absolutely got to text all her friends straight away and tell them. I nearly freaked at that, but I managed to stop her by telling her that this had to be a secret or my Dad could never find the right woman, and anyway, we hadn’t decided whether to go for it or not. ‘Oh, you absolutely must. I mean, being a Lord of the Manor and all that - it’s just too way out not to do it,’ she replied. I made her promise she wouldn’t tell anyone at all for at least two weeks - but I’m not sure she’ll last that long. A secret this big is too much for her to keep to herself.”

 

-3-

After tea, we both went round to my mum’s. She was always complaining she didn’t see enough of her granddaughter, and now I was going to tell her we might be moving somewhere a long way away. She wouldn’t like that idea, I was sure. The thing I wanted from the evening was to find out if Mum knew anything about the Manor and why Dad had rejected his birthright.

Mum was on good form. She’d spent the day working in her garden, which was her pride and joy. she often said that if she hadn’t had the garden, losing Dad would probably have been the end for her as well.

After some chit-chat and a crazy board-game, Mum made some drinks and a snack, and then I told her our news. Her jaw didn’t actually drop, but you could see that she was taken aback by what I told her. She was silent for a while, then she spoke.

“So Charles has kicked the proverbial bucket,” she said. “And now it comes around again.”

“What do you mean, Mum? Tell us what happened all those years ago.”

“Well, there’s a lot I could say, but I’d rather just give you the short version. You see, I wasn’t brought up to life in the Manor like your father. I was from the village, just a peasant in the eyes of the high and mighty. However, Bill, your Dad, went to the local Grammar School rather than a public school. His parents thought they were being more egalitarian that way. I also passed my eleven plus and went to the Grammar School, so we travelled together. We didn’t really notice each other until one day I tripped as I was getting off the bus, and sprained my ankle. Bill came to the rescue, and helped me get home. He didn’t let on who he was, but my parents knew, and after he’d gone, they told me to have nothing more to do with that stuck-up lot at the Manor.

Of course, being a teenager, that was exactly what I didn’t do.

“We grew closer, and often helped each other with homework, and talked about getting married, although we realised that would be impossible. Then, when Bill was 17, his father died suddenly, and that changed everything. I’d already left school - there was no question of staying on to the sixth form - but up to that point Bill was heading for University. After his father’s death, however, the pressure was on for him to find a suitable wife and take up his destined role as Lord of the Manor. However archaic that sounds, that was his family’s attitude, and from what you’ve told me, it still is.

“This story is getting a bit longer than I expected, but believe me, this is the short, or shorter, version. Anyway, Bill said that he wouldn’t marry anyone but me, but his family, most of all his mother, wouldn’t or couldn’t accept that. Then the lawyers got involved. You’ve heard the conditions. Bill had a year from his eighteenth birthday to either marry ‘appropriately’ or give up his rightful inheritance. I’m happy to say, he chose me, and we moved as far away from his family as we could. From then on, just about the only contact we had with our respective families was Christmas and birthday cards.

“Now, as they say, ‘What goes around comes around’ and you have to make your choice. For me, I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole. It’s like a poisoned chalice, in my view. But now we’re in th 21st century, and things may change, or be already changing. Maybe you have the opportunity to do some good. But remember, Stephen, you’re already past forty. Finding the right wife won’t be easy, and then, adjusting to a new role would be a huge challenge, one which you might regret taking up. “

Mum took a deep breath at that point, and seemed on the point of tears. Eventually, she continued, “However, it may be your destiny. It was certainly your father’s right. And for me, the chance to visit my childhood haunts would be nice, but I’ve lived here a long time now, and here is where I belong, so even if you went, I’d stay here..”

After Kylie and I got home, and she had gone to bed, I decided to take Ron’s advice and pray. “If nothing else, it may help sort out my confused mind,” I thought.

It must have helped, because I slept peacefully, and almost didn’t wake up when my alarm went off.

-4-

I got Kylie’s and my lunches ready, we had breakfast and then left the house together, as usual. We parted at the bus stop, where Kylie waited for the school bus, and I continued on the short distance to the factory.

At lunchtime, I was sitting on my own in the staff canteen, when I was joined by Kay. She was working in the payroll section, and we’d passed the time of day a few times. “Do you mind if I join you?” she asked.

“Sure, go ahead,” I replied. I was a bit surprised by her request, and wondered if she was just needing company or if there was anything else going on in her mind. I soon found out.

We chatted a little, and then Kay asked me, “There’s a ceilidh in Bamburgh this Saturday, and some friends of mine are borrowing a mini-bus to go there. I was wondering if you’d like to go there with me. I haven’t been out to a dance for ages, and I really could do with a partner. I know you can dance - I’ve seen you before...”

I interrupted her flow of words. “I’d love to go to the ceilidh,” I said. “I, too, haven’t been out in ages - and I’m really flattered you should think of me to invite.”

“That’s great,” she said. “Sorry I rabbited on. I was just so nervous about asking you.”

We arranged to meet outside the pub near the factory at 6 on Saturday. I started to feel excited. Could this be an answer to prayer? - or was I just wanting to wrap things up too quickly.? I told myself to slow down. There’s a long way to go yet.

Still, the rest of the day passed with me hardly concentrating on what I was doing. When I told Kylie, she was thrilled for me. “It’s about time, Dad. Have a great time on Saturday. I expect you’ll ask Grandma to baby-sit - or maybe I could stay the night there and leave you free to do what you want?”

“Cheeky!” I replied. You ring Grandma, then, and let her decide what’s best for you. All right?”

As I expected, Mum was only too pleased to have Kylie stay the night with her, so that was arranged. Time then seemed to drag until 6 o’clock on Saturday. I barely had time to change out of my work clothes before going out again to get on the mini-bus. Kay had told me there’d be plenty to eat, so I didn’t bother with dinner.

The evening was a great success. I hadn’t enjoyed myself so much for ages. As well as there being plenty of food, there was also an abundance of beer, and I’m afraid I indulged rather too freely of that. Kay was a good dancer, and she had bags of energy. At the end of the evening, the band played a slow dance, and Kay and I danced, hugged together, happy in each others’ arms.

On the way home, I thought about inviting her in, but I just couldn’t do it. Kay looked a bit disappointed when I said nothing, but we parted with a long smoochy kiss.

I woke up late on Sunday, with a rather sore head. I skipped breakfast and pottered round the garden for the rest of the morning. Mum came over for Sunday dinner, rather she came over to do Sunday dinner, and of course she brought Kylie back.

We were just about to sit down to eat when the phone rang. It was Ron. “We missed you at chapel this morning. Are you all right?” he said.

I told him I’d had a late night and just slept in. Ron seemed satisfied with that explanation and he rang off, but not before saying, “See you this evening then.”

Not having eaten anything until then and having recovered from my Saturday night excesses, I put away a good roast dinner and we went out together for a stroll a bit later. I put in an appearance at evening chapel, and heard a rousing sermon on “Don’t be anxious about tomorrow. Today’s troubles are enough”

On Monday, I met Kay at lunch, and the rest of the week we spent a lot of time together. One day, I went over to her place for dinner, and Kylie came too. We really seemed to enjoy each others’ company, and I began to think I might have hit the jackpot first time. However, pride comes before a fall, as they say, and great was the fall on Saturday.

Kylie and I were having a late breakfast when the door opened and in stormed Kay. Without any hello, she shoved a copy of the local weekly paper under my nose, and said. “Take a look at that and tell me it’s not true!.”

I looked at the paper. The banner headline on the front page read “WINDFALL - FACTORY FOREMAN’S FORTUNE.” I looked at the article underneath. There were the basic facts of my inheritance, but nothing about the circumstances or conditions except for this: “There’s one snag - our inheritor has to get married before he can lay hands on the property, so watch out all you eligible ladies.”

I was furious after reading the article. Someone had given this information to the newspaper and they hadn’t had the courtesy to get in contact with me before going to press. Not that there was legally anything I could do - there was no libel, just enough to screw up my prospects of finding the right woman.

I turned to Kay. “It’s essentially true, but it’s not complete. There’s a complicated situation, which I didn’t want to get round everywhere, partly because of the marriage condition.”

“And just when were you going to get round to telling me? Before or after proposing marriage?” Kay replied angrily.

“Now hold on. You came to me, remember. Please calm down, and I’ll tell you everything. then you can walk out if you want.”

Kay calmed down and accepted a cup of tea from Kylie, which she sipped as I told her the events of the previous week. “So you see, we didn’t think we should tell anyone, especially as we haven’t decided whether to accept the inheritance yet,” I concluded.

For the next couple of minutes, Kay just sat there, saying nothing, then she spoke. “I can see your dilemma, but I’m still angry. I don’t know what to say to colleagues at work. They all know we’ve been together a lot this week, and I’d bet some of them are already getting going with the gossip. I think it’s best if we put things on hold for a time. I was becoming quite fond of you as well.” She sniffed back a tear as she said this.

Reluctantly, I agreed with Kay, but I added, “When you sat beside me in the staff canteen, I wondered if it was an answer to prayer. Right now, it doesn’t feel like it, but I can’t be sure we’re not meant for each other. I really like you, and I’m glad everything’s now out in the open. We’ll give each other some space.” I kissed her then, and we agreed to talk again in about a month.

 

-5-

 

A week later, the schools broke up for their summer holiday. For the first time ever, Kylie and I were having holidays in different places. Kylie was going with Amy and her family for a week in the Canary Islands. Amy’s family always went away the first week of the summer holidays, and this year Amy had persuaded her Mum and Dad to let her bring Kylie. Amy, like Kylie, was an only child, and as she told her parents, “It’s really boring sitting with adults all evening while they get drunk and go dancing.”

So, Kylie went off early on Saturday morning and I waved goodbye to her from my bedroom