The old man’s voice was rough and flat: “You cannot give what you do not have!”
Spencer frowned and protested, “But Grandfather, once probate is through I will have it. As the eldest son the family estate becomes mine.”
His grandfather sighed – what did they teach this generation? Patiently he tried to make the position clear.
“Yes, Spencer, but when you inherit an entailed estate you inherit responsibility. The estate was entailed when it was deeded to an ancestor in return for his services to the Crown. After the death of your father the property becomes yours to use – to occupy – during your lifetime. Provided you use it carefully the profits from the estate are yours, but before you can take those profits you have the responsibility of keeping the estate in good repair. When you die the estate will pass – in this case – to your brother Jocelyn’s eldest son, and it is up to you to make sure that it does so in the best possible condition.”
Spencer’s frown deepened. His grandfather continued steadily, “In your father’s case, he was a good businessman – an entrepreneur – and the firm that he started in his young days, before he inherited the family estate, has flourished and grown. You took little interest in the business, but Jocelyn did, which is why Joss inherited the business.
“In your current circumstances your father was doubtful of your ability to manage the family estate without misapplying the finances, therefore he deeded to you a – er, a – what I can only call an annual handout. A handout is a portion given to a person to help them through a difficult time, or something like that. This will be paid as a percentage of the profits from the business. Jocelyn will see to it. The estate is being well managed without your input. You will be required to take an interest – make decisions, sign papers – but your advisors are all well-trained, honest men. Your father saw to that. This is now your house, your home. And although your mother and I are still living here, that is only at your indulgence. If you require us to leave, we shall do so.”
In the heavy silence that followed Spencer looked from his grandfather to his mother, knitting quietly. His eyes scanned the room. His house, his home. He was the eldest son, so the family estate was now his. Not because he wanted it, or had worked for it, or earned it. Just because he was the eldest son. It had become a very lonely position.
He thought of his father, seeing with newly opened eyes the non-relationship of a boy walking on rainbows, head in the clouds, with a severely practical man; a man to whom there were no ifs or buts, and to whom every question had a simple and logical answer.
Once again, he thought, I am brought face to face with the value which my father put on me, his eldest son: a handout. Such small value. A bitter thought. He savored it. His chest constricted with grief, his lip curled in scorn of himself. He looked up.
“And you, Grandfather,” he avoided looking at his mother, “Do you think I’ll squander the family estate? Do you think that’s all I’m worth – a handout, once a year?”
His grandfather chewed his lip. Eventually, “No, Son.” (Son? At thirty-nine years of age, son?)
“No, Son,” he repeated firmly, “Nor did your father really think that. But you came unstuck when you lost Mavis and your little Robert in that car crash, that was five years ago and you haven’t picked up the pieces of your life yet. It is past time that you made a serious effort to get on with life before you become a handout yourself. You cannot give away the family estate, or even a portion of it. But what do you have in your hand?”
Spencer looked at his empty palms, turned his hands down and shook his head.
“You have your life, Spencer, only your life. And that is all you have to give away. You can waste it, you can bury it, you can squander it. Or you can pick it up and use it on behalf of those around you. Think about it, Spencer. Will you become just a handout, or will you hold your hand out to others?”
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