Friday, November 21, 2014

The visitor

Jane was washing the breakfast dishes when the doorbell rang. Sighing she dried her hands and made the long journey through the old house from the kitchen to the front door. Her sister, Elizabeth, was, she knew, relaxing in front of the fire that Jane had made in the morning room earlier. But it would never occur to her to answer the door. She never did. She rarely did anything around the house.

Jane opened the door.
'Mr Smedly,' she said in surprise. Mr Smedley was the local solicitor. But she hadn't had any cause to talk with him since her father had died five years earlier.
'May I come in?' he said with a smile, raising his bowler hat.
'Of course,' she said, stepping aside.
'Not a bad day,' he said as he entered. 'Very cold, of course. But dry.' He took off his coat and Jane hung it up.
'Is your sister here, I wonder?' he said.
'Yes,' said Jane.
'It was very good of you to take her in,' said Mr Smedly. 'After, all, the house was left to you.'
'Where else would she go?' said Jane.
'Quite,' said Mr Smedly. 'I wonder if I might have a word with you both?'
'Of course.' She brought him through the door, a little way down the entrance hall, which led to the morning room. Elizabeth was sitting on a sofa, her feet curled under her, reading the paper.
'Mr Smedly,' she said. 'What brings you here?'
'Won't you sit down?' said Jane. 'Can I offer you some tea?'
'Thank you,' he said sitting. 'But no tea, thank you. What I have to say won't take long. It's a rather interesting story, though.'
'Really?' said Elizabeth. 'Do tell.'
'I wonder did your father ever mention to you that he had a brother?'
'A brother?' said Elizabeth. 'No; never.'
'Yes,' said Jane. 'His name was John. He was a little older than father. They fell out over something when they were young. As far as I know they never spoke again. I'm afraid I have no idea where he is. I did try to contact him after father died, but no one seemed to have any idea where he was. He seems to have vanished years ago.'
'Ah,' said Mr Smedly. 'Well, in fact, it seems as if he was hiding in plain sight. He changed his name and became an actor. A rather famous one. I'm sure you've heard of him – Gregory Dax?'
' Gregory Dax?' said Elizabeth. 'Oooh, yes. I've seen some of his old movies. He was rather dishy back in the day. Well, now we know where I get my good looks – it must run in the family.'
'Have you heard of him, Jane?'
'Yes. Doesn't he run some kind of a foundation now?'
'Indeed.' The lawyer nodded. 'Apparently he was also quite clever at investing and made quite an enormous fortune. And he gives most of his money away to charity through his foundation.'
'How boring,' said Elizabeth. 'If I were rich, I'd get out of this hole of a place and have a fine time spending it. But why are you telling all of this. He hasn't died, has he?' She sat up, her eyes gleaming. 'Is that it? Is he dead and we're getting all his money?'
'Elizabeth!' said Jane, shocked. 'How can you wish someone dead for their money?'
'Oh, hush, Miss goody-two-shoes. I'm not wishing him dead. I'm just being honest and wondering if I'm about to have a bit of good luck for a change. Well?'
'It is good news, in a sense,' said Mr Smedly. 'He's not dead. But he realises he's getting old. His wife died some years ago and they never had children. So he's trying to decide who to leave it all to. He'd like to meet you two. You're his only relatives; he's thinking of making one of you his heir.'
'Goody!' said Elizabeth. 'When will he make up his mind. And how? He's never met us; he knows nothing about us.'
'Exactly. That's why he sent me. He wants to meet you. If you could come to my office today at around noon, he'll be there. He's says he'll make up his mind there and then and I'm to draw up the paperwork.'
'Isn't that an awfully big decision to make in so short a time?' said Jane.
'I suggested as much. But he says that he is an excellent judge of character and will know whom he should chose by then. Shall I tell him you'll be there?'
'Of course we'll be there!' said Elizabeth. And there was very little more to say. Jane showed Mr Smedly out and went back to the morning room. Elizabeth was dancing about in delight.
'I'm going to be rich! Rich, rich, rich!' She smiled at her sister. 'Too bad about you; but we all know you're not much good at first impressions. Me, now that's a different story. But not to worry; after all, you'll still have the house. And now, I have to get dressed – uncle John won't know what hit him!' She tore out of the room.

Jane sighed and headed back to the kitchen. She had no doubt that Elizabeth was right. She was beautiful and Jane, well, wasn't, and Elizabeth could be charming when she wanted to be. If this was the way that their uncle wanted to decide what to do with his fortune, then is seemed a forgone conclusion that Elizabeth would soon have what she wanted.

She was no sooner back in the kitchen than the door-bell rang again, so she turned around and trudged back. But this time, Elizabeth was there first. She probably thought it was Mr Smedly back with more good news, thought Jane. But when she got to the hallway, she heard Elizabeth's voice raised and she sounded cross.

'Oh, be off with you! Really, if we gave something to every beggar that came to the door, we'd be beggars ourselves! Just because we live in a big house doesn't mean we're rich!' She slammed the door and pounded back up the stairs. Jane frowned, wondering what it had all been about. Despite what Elizabeth said, people rarely came to the house looking for anything. Most of the people in the town knew that the two sisters struggled to get by on what Jane earned. It might have been different if Elizabeth worked, but, of course, she didn't.
Jane went to the door and opened. There was an old woman walking down the drive. She called after her.
'Hello. Hello! Can I help you?' The old woman turned and came back. She was thin and stooped and dressed in an old black shawl.
'Can I help you?' Jane repeated. The old woman gave her a nervous look.
'I don't mean to trouble you,' said the old woman. 'I was out walking and I went further than I meant to. I just wanted somewhere to sit down for a minute, and maybe have a cup of tea …'
'Oh, for goodness sake, of course, come in,' said Jane. She brought her down to the kitchen and sat her down next to the old range.
'I'm Jane. The tea won't be a minute,' said Jane, putting on the kettle. 'Are you hungry? There's still plenty left since breakfast. I was just clearing it away.'
'Oh thank you, dearie, but I don't want to be any trouble.'
'It's no trouble.' Jane made a pot of tea and fixed her a plate of food. The old woman wolfed it down like she was starving. Jane chatted to her while she finished the washing up. The old woman nodded and smiled, but didn't say much.
'Listen,' said Jane. 'I have to go into town soon. If you like, I can give you a lift.'
'No, no, dearie,' said the old woman, standing up. 'I'm much better now. You've been very good. I must be on my way.'
'Are you sure?' said Jane. 'I'll be going in in an hour. You could wait here by the fire.'
'No thank you,' said the old woman.
'If you're sure,' said Jane. She walked her back to the ftont door. Opening it the icy breeze made her shiver. She looked at the old woman in her shawl.
'You're not dressed warmly enough for this weather,' she said.
'It's all I have,' said the old woman.
'Wait a moment,' said Jane. She took a heavy old coat off the stand by the door.
'I think this should fit you,' she said.
'Really, dearie, I can't take your coat. Jane shook her head.
'It was my father's. I've been meaning to take it down to the charity shop for ages. You have it. It's wool. It'll keep you warm.'
The old woman put it on.
'Oh, it is warm, isn't it? Thank you dearie.' She gave Jane a hug and was off. Jane smiled. Maybe she'd never be rich like Elizabeth would soon be; but she knew she'd do more good with the little she had than her sister ever would with millions.

Jane was quiet in the car on the drive into town. She hadn't much choice; her sister talked non-stop, already spending the riches she was sure would soon be hers. The secretary ushered them into Mr Smedly's office. With him was a tall, thin man who looked vaguely familiar. Not surprising, thought Jane; he is an famous actor, after all.

Elizabeth put the charm on straight away.

'Uncle John,' she said, giving him her most brilliant smile. 'I've always been a great fan of your movies. Who knew we were flesh and blood? What a pity we never met before. But we have plenty of time to make up for that now.'
Her uncle looked at her.
'You must be Elizabeth. I'm glad you liked my movies. And we have met before.'
'No,' said Elizabeth. 'I'd remember.'
'I doubt it. I was cold, tired, and hungry. And you wouldn't give me so much as a cup of tea.'
'I think you must be mistaken.'
'I'm afraid not. And because of that, you will never be my heir.'
'I don't understand.'
'You will.' He turned to Jane. 'Now you, Jane; you, on the other hand, are a kind and good young woman. You gave me plenty of good hot tea, fed me, let me sit by your fire, even clothed me. You, my dear, shall be my heir.'
Jane shook her head.
'No, there must be some mistake. We've never met.'
Her uncle smiled.
'Haven't we?' he said. From a chair near Mr Smedly's desk he took an old black shawl. He threw it over his head, stooped down, and smiling at Jane, said: 'Are you sure we haven't met, dearie?'
She was looking at the old woman who had come to the house earlier. Jane remembered then that her uncle was an actor. Elizabeth clearly remembered it also, for she began to wail, realising what her moment of unkindness had cost her.
(C) Fr Levi

I told this story to the children in the school today. Again, no prizes for guessing what passage of Scripture this is based on! I did wonder if the children would see the 'twist' at the end coming, but they assured me they didn't - what it is to be young and innocent!

No comments:

Post a Comment