| LAVINIA'S LEGACY
It wasn't surprising, that only a small number of people attended Lavinia's cremation at Karrakatta cemetary a fortnight later. Most of her old friends had already passed on, except perhaps for Mr Barnsley, who Laura now felt a sense of guilt about avoiding. Even so, when when she had eventually called at his house to pass on the news, she still hadn't been able to tell him, because he wasn't there.
There were a few people among the mourners Laura hadn't recognized, but a few she knew from 'Elder Care'. Two women from Guildford's Jehovah Witness contingent who regularly called at River-view Lodge to see Lavinia, had come to pay their respects too, as did Samuel Ridgeway, Lavinia's right hand man. The ill-mannered pair, her son James and daughter Katherine also turned up, but as she was busy crying crocodile tears into a handkerchief all through the service, the Eulogy was left to him. It angered Laura to hear him telling the congregation that he and his sister were very close to their mother. It might well have won over the small throng of people there, but not her.
After returning from the crematorium to River-view Lodge, Laura had quickly gathered a few photograph's of Lavinia in various stages of her life, to arrange on the table beneath the hexagonal pergola outside in the sunken garden. It was where she had decided to set out the small buffet earlier prepared by her, as it seemed a fitting place for Lavinia's last farewell. However, Katherine Willcox rudely snatched them out of Laura's hands and then arranged them herself.
During the garden party Lavinia's spiritual presence was felt very strongly by Laura. She was visualizing her watching the fiasco from her favourite armchair by the french doors of her living room room and writing down how she felt about the ones who were at her send off, but stayed well away when she was alive. She'd never mentioned such things verbally to Laura, but had had a lot of time on her hands to think and then write her thoughts down. She wrote about many things, but something else kept her going for longer in the end and turned out to be the best medicine of all. It was the completion of the garden makeover, which was now a wonderful sight to behold, but gazing around it, Laura could only wonder who would be looking after it soon.
She watched Lavinia's son and daughter closely at the celebration of their mother' life. They acted their parts well and pretended that they still had strong ties with River-view Lodge. Lavinia hadn't wanted them to inherit it, but be that as it may, Laura could only feel melancholy, knowing her days there were numbered.
Roaming quietly around the garden, a formal looking man with a briefcase could be seen talking in depth to a number of people in turn. Laura hadn't realized till he approached her though, that it was the executor of Lavinia's will who was in attendance. She had not seen him before, but his voice she had recognized on the phone when he'd spoken with Lavinia. His name was Eric Jones, one of the partners at Jones Fisher and Claxon. He was not only paying his last respects to her, but was carrying out her orders by calling upon certain individuals to attend the firm's city office for the reading of her will. He spoke at length to both Lavinia's progeny and then to a few others including Laura and Sam Ridgeway in turn and had also asked about Mr Barnsley, but Laura had to tell him, she had no idea where he had got to.
It'd been a long day, so it was a relief when Laura finally got back to her flat and put her feet up for a while. She still had the evening to get through yet, but before she could even think about anything else, she'd fallen asleep and didn't wake up until well after nine the next morning. It was unlike her, but it just proved that the dramas of this day and previous weeks, had taken their toll.
The concrete maize of Perth's tall buildings, multi-storey car parks and crowds of people, Laura Loveday loathed. Had it not been for the will briefing that afternoon, she would not have chosen to got there. An independent woman, who rarely relied on others, she took the train to the city, instead of accepting Same Ridgeway's offer of a lift in his car.
Inside the plush office of Jones Fisher and Claxon, there were eight people including Lavinia's son and daughter already sitting around an oval mahogany table. Laura acknowledged Sam after spotting him in the group, then nodded at the rest, after finding a place to sit. A few people were nervously coughing and fidgeting in their seats, while others picked at the edges of the portfolio's in front of them. Laura felt uncomfortable and had no idea why she was there, or Sam for that matter, but the others had that expectant look about them as if Lavinia was going to leave them a pile of money. After EricJones began the proceedings, he spent a good amount of time talking about Lavinia, then went through the preliminaries of the will, before getting down to the issues relative to executing it.
During this time, Laura subtly perused each person in turn. She knew the obvious two smart asses of course, but the others would be relatives too and all were expecting to receive something from Lavinia they weren't really worthy of. Laura had to admit to being curious about who the major inheritor was going to be and hoped there was a worthy opponent to Lavinia's dishonourable offspring, although she knew it wasn't really her right to think that. Laura had always known her place in the scheme of things. Not for her any visions of grandeur, but to the contrary, Lavinia herself had never been the kind of woman to gloat over her wealth while in her staff's company.
Laura then glanced across at Sam sitting opposite her, wondering what he was making of this farce. Conversely, what she saw in his fixed gaze in her direction, wasn't what she was expecting from him. It immediately changed her train of thought and for the first time she noticed his eyes. They were unusually speckled and hazel coloured, rather like the egg of an English Chaffinch. After realizing she was staring at him too, she quickly dragged her eyes away, but then found herself blushing with self consciousness. The whole episode had also set in motion extra heartbeats in her
They'd only come to know each other through their work with Lavinia and like Laura he was single and lived alone. Laura knew he'd been married once, but seeing as his wife had run off with his best friend, she'd assumed he had lost faith in both men and women.
The wife apparently stripped him of everything he owned, after which he was forced to live less comfortably in a caravan on a park site in the Swan Valley. Laura had never thought of him as anything more than a lonely man before, although he had tried to strike up a friendship with her once in the past. In contrast, she hadn't reciprocated his advances, believing they were both too old and set in their ways for anything more.
Laura's mind was still miles away from the task in hand, when exclamations from some of the people, drew her back to the events in the room. Her name was being mentioned and all eyes were on her. She had always loved the sapphire ring Lavinia had so generously granted her, but at that moment she wished she had not been bestowed it, as what followed next were scornful looks from Katherine Willcox and perplexed looks from the rest of the group, who must have wondered who the hell Laura Loveday was. Katherine was designated an heirloom gold carriage clock, which she was the slightest bit interested in, or the history behind it, but the son did seem pleased to be receiving a gold fob watch, another family heirloom which belonged to his father and his grandfather before him. They also received valuable stamp albums each and a set of expensive gold coins. Sam was next on the agenda and Lavinia had bestowed to him an expensively bound twelve volume set of garden books. Mr Barnsley's name popped up too and he was bequeathed an ornate brass handled jarrah wood walking stick, originally belonging to Lavinia's late husband.
Everyone waited with baited breath as the proceedings led towards the most crucial segment, but at that point, it still hadn't been announced how Lavinia's assets were to be distributed. Even so, James and Katherine Willcox still appeared confident.
Their attitude was still good at the crux of the proceedings, when Eric announced that a trust fund was to be set up for them. However, they hadn't expected to then hear that the bulk of Lavinia's assets, were going to be held for uses of a specific nature. It was the announcement that River-view Lodge and its chattels had been included in this, which caused the two faces to drop, then a bewildered look from everyone else around the table.
The pair hadn't expected to be spurned by their mother and found it hard not to show their dissatisfaction. After whispering a few words to each other, they then got up to leave the room, but before they did so, Eric Jones reminded them that it was not ethical to depart before the end of the proceedings. Embarrassed and deflated, they slithered back into their seats, after which Katherine rather rudely began tapping the table with a pen, while James, who was trying to be compliant, nervously clicked the top of his, during the rest of the report.
It seemed like a bit of an anti climax when the main beneficiary was finally announced, but it would have been difficult to speculate upon whom it fell. The kind of reaction it produced from most at the gathering was jovial banter; well all except a deflated James and Katherine, who at the end of the meeting, were seen gesticulating and arguing with Eric Jones.
Laura thought this was a good time to quietly slip away. She hadn't wanted to get drawn into any arguments with them. In any case, she felt a headache coming on and needed to get back to the comfort and security of her flat again. Thankful that Sam Ridgeway was about to leave too, she had accepted a lift home from him.
Back at home, between the comforting walls of her lounge room, Laura felt the day's tensions leave her body. It was rare these days for her to be able to unwind and relax, but she had been able to with him. Her headache had dissipated as quickly as it had come on, enabling them to enjoy a well earned cup of tea, go over the events of the day and the contents of the documents Eric Jones handed them before they left.
Both Laura and Sam were take aback to learn how involved Lavinia had hoped they'd be in her glorious plan. They laughed along with everyone else, when it was announced that Rumpole the cat was to be the main beneficiary of her estate. But in light of that, how would the pair be able to take seriously the roles they'd been asked to play in this scenario, when Lavinia had never raised it with either of them before?
As it turned out though, Lavinia's proposal, set out in two parts, emerged as a well thought out piece of legislation, but there were to be no half measures for Laura Lovegrove and Sam Ridgeway. They would have to comply with the whole package or nothing at all.
At first, such words as ridiculous, absurd preposterous and even comical sprang to the mind and lips of Laura and Sam when they heard that Lavinia expected them to live together under the same roof, when they hardly knew each other personally. Yet for the sake of a wonderful opportunity that could be coming their way, they eventually agreed that they'd be able to compromise.
Living within the comfortable confines of River-view Lodge and caring for Rumpole, naturally appealed to Laura. And why wouldn't it. She'd been coping with the demands of his highness for a long time already and the superior accommodation certainly wouldn't be difficult to get used to.
On the other hand, Sam, who was expected to take on a caretaker role, had one or two other reservations as well. The main one was the tenure of River-view Lodge after Rumpole's demise. The Cat Haven Charitable Organization would then take over ownership and it concerned him that the institution would have other ideas for the property then.
"In our line of business, nothing is left to chance," Eric Jones then casually remarked," at a further meeting he'd set up. "I can assure you and Ms Loveday, that you will have a secure future at River-view Lodge. It's all set out in the small print of Lavinia's will, which was signed sealed and sanctioned by our firm. Need I say more."
With most of the creases ironed out in part one of Lavinia Willcox's plan, the second still required further scrutinizing by Laura and Sam before they reached a final agreement. They'd become reasonably optimistic about complying with the first part of the package, but after reading further, they understood what was meant by the saying, if something appears to be too good to be true, then it usually is.
The stumbling block to the second part of Lavinia's enterprise, was having to embark on a business venture, besides their other duties at Riverview-Lodge, which neither were keen to get involved with. Being well into middle age, they were not dreamers and cajoling them into establishing and then running it, had left them feeling pretty disappointed and let down by her.
While both could see the potential in what she had in mind, and that was opening her new garden regularly to the public, it would demand a great deal more effort from them and it was more than Sam in particular was prepared to commit to. The operation of the envisaged tea rooms alongside, would create huge demands on Laura too.
By this stage, Eric Jones had probably regretted his phrase that nothing was left to chance in his line of business, especially as he had never actually had to deal with problems such as these before. But as he had succeeded in winning the couple over on the first part of Lavinia's proposal, he felt obliged to resolve the rest.
Of course Lavinia was adamant that both Laura and Sam were to be involved in every aspect of her proposal, but not at the coal face, as they were imagining. They then watched and listened intently, as a plan of the garden operation was produced and talked through by Eric, after which they scrutinized every aspect of being its joint managers.
Administrators would proportion the liquid assets mentioned in her will, to set up the business and a specified amount of cash would be withdrawn to begin operating it. Perpetual interest on the remainder of those assets, would be held in high interest bearing bank accounts, to cover maintenance and the small staff to run it. Finally, the entrance fees from patrons visiting the garden would provide much needed income to 'The Cat Haven'.
'And that's it, Lavinia's Legacy", Eric Jones then concluded. "I hope you are satisfied now".
Several weeks went by, during which Probate on Lavinia's estate was carried out. Advertisements were placed in local papers, to notify would be creditors, or anyone else who might want to contest the will. There had been no opposition to date, although the future appointments of Laura Loveday and Sam Ridgeway as executive caretakers of River-view Lodge, had been seen by outsiders, as a rather bizarre way to settle the controversies of the property.
CHAPTER SEVEN To be continued.