continued from yesterday...
It turned out that Sibyl had left no instructions regarding her funeral. In the grasp of creeping apprehension, Bel stared at Mr Adrian Goodfellow’s sausage fingers while he nervously manipulated the open file.
“The position is this, Mrs Lovelace... It is quite categorical. When all outstanding claims are met, your mother left the sole residue of her estate to The Lazarus Crusade.”
Lazarus, with its connotations of rebirth. Bel could hear her mother’s tormented caveat resound over the years: I’ll be in the bosom of Abraham and you’ll be watching in hell! She wanted to clap her hands over her ears, but what could blot out the sound? The sick feeling in the pit of her stomach had nothing to do with the loss of benefaction and everything to do with Sibyl’s glacial fanaticism. In one way, the reading of the will produced no surprises, in another, it defied belief that Sibyl was prepared to flog her hobby-horse past the post. Even Jamie had been ruled out of an inheritance. Further, the legacy had chiefly accrued from Edwin’s toil.
Within minutes, these emotions were swept aside by immense relief. Bel need not regret that she had not been a ‘good’ daughter: she had been what Sibyl had allowed. The lack of fulfilment was something she’d have to come to terms with.
Adrian Goodfellow, foreseeing wrath and fireworks, cleared his throat in the swelling silence. “That’s about the size of it, Mrs Lovelace, I’m sorry to say.”
“No matter.” said Bel with a brisk smile. “It was only to be expected.”
This reaction was not what he was used to in situations of the sort. “You could contest it, you know. You’re entitled to do that. This Will was signed barely ten days ago.”
“You mean my mother wasn’t compos mentis. She was losing her marbles? Or affected by medication?”
“It’s a possibility,” said the lawyer, recalling scattered oranges under his desk.
“No, Mr Goodfellow, this Will is as it was meant to be. My mother always dreamed of being able to help oppressed Africans. Let them benefit. That is the cause she died for.”
“You might care to think it over for a day or two... especially after today’s Press.” He looked pointedly at his deceased client’s daughter over the top of his spectacles.
“I don’t understand.”
“Scanning the World News columns of The Daily Telegraph on the train this morning, a short item caught my eye. I doubt I’d have noticed it but for having recently dealt with Mrs Ritchie. If first reports are any indication, there’s a huge question-mark over the dealings of this particular aid agency. Misappropriation of funds...”
“Really?” said Bel, wide-eyed.
“Should the allegations be proved, we could get this overturned...”
But Bel was not to be subverted. “In that case, the bequest must be made over to another organisation working in Central Africa. World Vision, for instance.”
“It’s a most charitable attitude, Mrs Lovelace, most commendable, but...”
“Trust me, it’s more fitting than it may seem on the surface. To be honest,” said Bel, “it has a certain remorseless logic. I wouldn’t be comfortable with her money, though I could wish my son’s student loan might be written off.”
The file teetered on its spine, about to be closed. “I’ll see what I can dig up on The Lazarus Crusade, at all events. Think about it. We’ll talk again soon.”
Bel thanked him and prepared to leave, drawing herself upright with a smile as if to welcome a clean sweep. Goodfellow accompanied her to the office door and shook her hand, but she pronounced no strictures on the theme of cobwebs!
Bannerman’s funeral parlour was run by a pair of brothers whose act was minted to perfection. They bounced comments off one another with a deft assurance that came of coupling a tailor-made product to a guaranteed and grateful market. To engage their services was to step back into the Victorian era with its deferential solemnity and nicely-judged titbits of humour to keep the mood upbeat.
“We handle everything, Mrs Lovelace,” said Dan, “down to catering, if need be, memorial donations and press notices. Isn’t that right, Ron?”
“We take it all off your shoulders,” reiterated Ron, “ensure a smooth passage for the departed. Sherry, flowers, queries from mourners... What do we do about the begging letters, Dan?”
“Keep sending ‘em, Ron. Keep sending ‘em!”
It was quickly verified that Bannerman’s had buried Edwin Ritchie and that his plot had not been a double one. The last remnant of Sibyl’s dust would blow about the rock-garden two acres away from her husband’s grave, separated by a vast plantation of crosses, leaning headstones and angel statuary. She had eschewed the offer of reserved space when Edwin died, had not wanted to think about going under and had shied at tempting God with so specious an alliance. Moreover, they wanted payment upfront. “I haven’t got money to burn,” she’d said. “Rumbold’s prospered while we lived hand to mouth.”
“We can decide what to put on the headstone later.”
“What did you want to go ordering a headstone for? Your dad wouldn’t want a headstone, advertising he’s gone!”
“I’ll cancel it,” Bel had said, cowed, ashamed of her pusillanimous response. “I’ll cancel it but the money ought to go to one of his causes.”
Now she could only think it apt that Sibyl and Edwin were parted in death. A Requiem Mass, she decided, for both of them. That was the last gesture she could make, a last bid, on their behalf, for the peace of their souls.
A last chance of exorcism of the siren oracle.
Excerpt from my latest (unedited and unpublished) Marion Grace novel, THE GODMOTHER, the story of a dysfunctional family floundering in the aftermath of two World Wars in pre-Millennium Britain.
Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...