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by Robert Cooper

Chapter 7

January 1st New Year"s Day.

The day dawned dull and overcast. My mood matched the day. At 10.00 I had a telephone call. It was a Mr. Dawson. He said he was the Fortescue-Smythe family solicitor. He apologised for calling on New Years Day but it was most urgent that he spoke with Geoffrey and Anthony. He said that he could arrive at the Manor in one hour. He suggested that the two boys had good friends with them. I said fine and we would see him then.

I found Geoff. and sent Edward to find Anthony and Andrew and all to meet in the Estate office in the hour. I suggested that all should be dressed tidy. Geoff. and I went to spruce ourselves up a bit. I asked Edward to sit in with his recorder and to make sure that there was brandy and glasses discretely available. If a solicitor was making house calls on New Years Day it had to be something important. I also asked him to arrange tea for when the man arrived. After a time we were all gathered in my office wondering what this news was.

The footman showed him up. Mr. Dawson was a tall thin man with a stern look. He obviously was not looking forward to this call. I introduced us all and invited him to sit. We all looked at him expectantly. He looked at Geoff. and Anthony.

"I am solicitor to your family. What I have to say is not good news. The day before yesterday your parents were travelling back to their chalet in the mountain resort . Their car slid on a patch of ice and went off the roa d. The car went down the slope and into a deep crevasse.

I am sad to say that they both died in this accident. If you wish I will wait outside for a few minutes while you collect yourselves. I have more to say which cannot wait for another day. Geoff and Anthony hugged each other and wept. Then Andrew and I made it a four way hug. Edward poured two glasses of brandy, one only a small sip for Anthony but Geoff. took his at all one swallow. He looked at me and said

"You have done this before, what do I do now?"

I said "When you have control call the solicitor back and hear what he has to say".

He composed himself somewhat and Edward asked the solicitor back.

He came back in and sat down and opened his briefcase.

He read from some papers and said "Apart from various bequests to staff members t he y ha ve left everything to you and Anthony. That can be discussed later. The immediate problem is that both of your parents wished to be cremated. Your la st duty to them is to decide if they should be cremated in Switzerland and their ashes brought back to England or for their bodies to be repatriated for cremation here. If I may suggest, it would be easier to repatriate ashes as bodies need a lot of paperwork and expense for the same result at this end anyway." My Swiss colleague will arrange re turn of all their personal effects to your home.

It would be better if you could be at the house when the staff are informed. I w ill meet you there to assist in any way. There are provisions made for them in the wills. I understand that your house manager and the cook, his wife are due to retire soon.

For your information, the Swiss authorities determined that your mother predeceased your father so you do not have to worry about double death duties. I will prepare the papers for probate and arrange a n inventory after you both have collected your personal effects. When you get home I would ask you to remove any insurance documents, bank pass books, house deeds etc. and get them to me as soon as you can. If you telephone me when you are there I can send the office messenger to collect them. I understand that there are letters for you and your brother in the safe which you may prefer to read in private. Unless you have any immediate questions I will go now and leave you to your grief. I will leave you my office details so you can telephone or e-mail if you have any questions."

Geoff. said "Cremation there in Switzerland please. One of my friends parents died abroad and it was a really mammoth task getting hi s body back and even then they had him cremated."

Anthony and I will arrange to travel to the house in a couple of days. Perhaps I can sign any forms you need then?"

Edward escorted Mr. Dawson to his car. "What a bloody awful start to the New Year" Edward thought to himself. When he got ba ck upstairs James, Geoff,Anthony and Andrew were in the small sitting room with the tray of tea and the bottle of brandy.

"Edward, will you go and discretely tell Standish what has happened please, and if the 'phone rings take a message. I am not available at all today."

I determined that the rest of the day would be for private thoughts and conversation.

After tea and biscuits Anthony decided to go and lay down for a while so Andrew took him off to weep in private. What a horrid finish to such a happy christmas.

Next day, we decided that we would make the trip to Geoff.'s house and collect their things the following day. Anthony said he would like to take Andrew for support. I decided to take the Limo for comfort and Edward for general duties. We told Standish our plans, we intended to leave early in the morning and return the same night. He rounded up suitcases and boxes for the back of the limo. The rest of the day was spent on routine matters. I told Sheldon that he could have his new tractor. I spoke to Mrs. Lang about Andrew providing support for Anthony. Geoff and I rode over to Upton to say that we would be away from the Manor all day and why. Back via the Villa and surprise d to see some of the senior team doing something or other with their radar scanner. Defining rubbish dumps they said.

Quiet dinner and early night ready for early start tomorrow. Geoff. was not looking forward to telling the staff about his parents.

Up at 6.00, breakfast early, load up and away. It was only 1½ hour journey so we were there at about quarter to nine.

The staff were pleased to see both boys but Mr. Betts, the house manager noticed the black ties. Geoff asked him to gather all staff into the dining room. When they were all gathered Geoff. gave them the awful news with Anthony standing beside him being very brave. Geoff. told them all he knew and that the family solicitor would tell them of the arrangements made for them. Anthony and Andrew went up to pack his things We left the staff to talk while we went into his late father's office. Geoff. got down on his knees and removed the bottom drawer of the desk. He then disabled the alarm and opened the safe. He pulled out loads of papers which I piled on the desk. He then took a metal plate out of the safe to reveal a substantial sum of cash which he placed into a carrier bag. He said "There should be £20 thousand there unless he added some more. Damned if I am going to pay death duties on my own money."

We sorted through the papers,separating out those which the solicitor wanted. There were also two envelopes with the boy's names on them. These he tucked into his inside pocket for later. Safe now empty, he put the metal plate back and replaced the drawer. He then went to the other bottom drawer, did the same and exposed another safe. "This was mums safe." He opened it up exposing more papers and some jewellery. This he put on the desk top. Then he went down again and lifted the steel plate in the bottom. There was more cash and some really exquisite jewellery. The cash went into his bag and the jewellery went with the rest except for a small white bag which rattled. That went into his pocket.

There was a brief case beside the desk, so Geoff. put all the papers and gems into it.

He then got Dawson's card out and called him. When he answered he said that he had all the papers he wanted and also mother's jewellery which he thought should not be given to a clerk. Dawson said he would come himself with a Polaroid camera to prove what he had been given. Geoff then said to me "count out £1000 because it is not logical that there would be no cash in the house."

We then went up with Edward to pack, all of Geoff.'s things. This did not take long as most of his stuff was already at the Manor. Edward started loading the car. Geoff stuffed the cash bag into one of his suit cases and told Edward to put it right at the bottom and to lock the boot. Anthony had finished as well so Edward loaded his cases as well. When Dawson arrived he spoke to the staff. Seems that there is a trust fund to give Mr. and Mrs Betts a nice retirement pension. They were also to be given a sum to help them buy somewhere to live.

I knew of a cottage on the Manor Estate if they were interested. The rest of the staff will be given severance on termination. They would be kept on to assist with inventory for probate and preparing the house for sale so they had plenty of time to look for another job. Mr. Dawson took polaroids of the jewellery and gave us one set, he also gave us a receipt for the cash. That done he went off. Geoff. gave instructions to the staff, gave the house manager his telephone number and e-mail for contact. Any bills for the house should be sent to the Manor for payment. We then loaded up and departed for the Manor and dinner.

Geoff. later told me that the white bag that rattled was raw diamonds and the cash was really his.

He asked "Do we have a safe?"

I replied "Yes an old model, Standish has the key."

He said " I would like a new one for my cash and whatever gems I keep from Mum's collection. Some of them are old family heirlooms."

I said " Go ahead and arrange it."

I asked " How is Anthony holding up?"

He replied " Andrew is taking good care of him. They seem to be very close after this news."

I then stated "He will need his brother's support as well. He is now your responsibility."

"Yes, I see." he answered. "Perhaps we need to contact Mrs. Sloan when we have copies of the Wills. I must ask Dawson for copies and also read the letters. I will read mine now."

He asked Edward to take Anthony's letter to him.

He sat at my desk, slit the envelope with my letter knife, took out the paper and started to read. His face went red and his eyes became angry. "Bastard" he exploded and threw the letter onto the desk. He went to the sideboard and poured himself a large brandy and swallowed it down, " Read it!" he shouted at me.

I picked up the letter with some trepidation,I read as follows:-

My Dear Son,

Only after I have passed will you be reading this letter.

I have to tell you that though I am your natural father the L ady you know as 'Mother' is not your biological mother. Your real mother is dead and gone after giving birth to Anthony. We were never married though she was well taken care of during her pregnancies. Eleanor loved you both dearly and her will reflects this fact as does mine. Apart from legacies to care for Mr. and Mrs. Betts who have served us faithfully for many years, all we posses s is now yours and Anthony's.

I trust that you will care for your brother, provide for him and protect him in the years to come.

Your Loving Father,
John Fortescue-Smythe K.C.V.O.

I folded the letter and replaced it into the envelope.

"Well," I said "That is a right kick in the balls."

"Bastard" he said again." All these years and he never trusted me enough to tell me that we were born out of wedlock. Bloody Coward!"

He refilled his glass but only sipped it this time. "What and how am I going to tell Anthony, and when?"

"Wait and see what HIS letter says." I cautioned "It is going to be a huge shock to him, he will need all your s upport to stop him going off the rails."

We sat in silent though t for about five minutes then there was a pattering of feet in the hallway and Anthony burst into the room waving a letter.

"Is this true," he shouted."Of all the slimy liars he must be the worst. Letting us believe that Eleanor was our mother for all these years! He gave his letter to Geoff. to read.

Geoff. looked at me and said "His says the same as mine."

"Now then, does it make any difference between you two?" I asked, hoping to bring some rationality to the situation.

"None at all." said Geoff. I shall be Anthony's brother still. I will love him and care for him and be his guardian and provider.

Anthony looked at his brother wide eyed then rushed over and took him in a huge hug.

"Oh Geffy" he cried " I thought you would want nothing to do with me after you read your letter."

"Silly boy". he said "You are my brother,now and always. This makes no difference to us.

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