'Charlotte Grey is dead. Long live Charlotte Grey'.
Solomon Whitely, solicitor to the deceased read the opening line from my Aunt Charlotte's last will and testament then raised his august head. Clearly this was a significant opening statement and we four gathered around his richly polished wood desk, were meant to give it due attention.
I pondered the possible implications with something akin to dread, while my cousins with knitted brows and darting eyes struggled to join the dots.
We were at the suites of Whitley and Whitley: solicitors since 1890, as a result of being the only living relatives of one Miss Charlotte Grey, deceased.
And though I forced my face to remain impassive I wanted nothing more than privacy to weep over the loss of mentor, kin and now if I was alert to Aunt Charlie's cryptic ways, possibly my chosen career.
It was not an especially giant leap from - Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi, - The King is dead, long live the King, to the meaning of Aunt's opening line. She'd always had a lively interest in cryptic phrases; it was an expression of her writer's nature --her colour perhaps. Such vitality was second only to her radiant acceptance of being a woman loved by her Saviour. There was rarely a dull moment in that relationship.
Whitley cleared his throat and read on without further pause and to the effect that apart from the conditional absolution of an astonishingly large debt owed to Aunt Charlie's estate by the three cousins, all her worldly goods and chattels and book royalties had been passed on to the next Charlotte Grey.
I am that Charlotte Grey.
'Miss Grey . . . ' pause, 'Miss Grey?'
I looked up.
'There are stipulations and requests; your Aunt asks, merely asks that you run the book store "Cover to Cover" and her prized subsidiary business "Under Cover" for twelve months. If after that time you wish to sell the entire concern or part thereof and resume your journalistic career you are free to do so. She realises it will be a challenge as your writing career has just begun to establish itself but she hopes you will regard it as an ever greater investigation of possibilities.
I nodded again. I had never said no to my Aunt before. No real point starting now. Yet this was profound and life changing and I needed time to think. Time to pray. Investigative journalism had been my dream career since childhood. A desire written on my heart by God. I'd worked my way through university and worn out several pairs of shoes before eventually landing a dream job in which I was slowly gaining respect and trust with my editor.
And now I was to leave it all and come home to a book store and whatever 'Under Cover' happened to be.
Aunt Charlie had always been evasive about the ownership of the little set of rooms next door to her store. When I asked she'd frowned and uncharacteristically called for a coffee break. Just once she'd lowered her voice and suggested that they were just cashing in on her big bold book shop title.
'Best leave them as they are Charlotte.'
There was no point asking who 'they are'. I was already tachycardiac, racing pulse, from to many coffee breaks.
I was not meant to investigate that particular situation and my restraint, such as it was, pleased my Aunt.
Mr Whitley's voice drew me back to the room and I saw he'd turned to my cousins. 'The will stipulates that with the dissolution of all debt Mr John Chasser, Miss Vasti Chasser and Mrs Jeanette Pencher are to refraining from making life difficult for Miss Charlotte Grey.'
Three indignant protests caused the solicitor to pause and John turned to stare at me, his eyes burning with malice. ' Outragous! We will most certainly contest…'
Mr Whitley cleared his throat loudly.
'If any of you presume to contest the will or delay its settlement the outstanding debts will be reinstated and become a part of probate.
'Do you have any questions?' Mr Whitley gave us sometime with our stunned selves before rising. 'Your Aunt Charlotte was an amazing woman; loved to write cryptic mysteries you know. She hoped you would all see this will as a challenge to discover new and wonderful things.
Miss Grey I have a letter from your Aunt outlining the facts about her 'Under Cover' little business'.
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