Abraham sighed, shrugged his shoulders within his thick black mohair coat and began to walk. As he left the brick office building, he viewed the small town square with its bandstand, circular path dotted with benches and duck pond. His breath came out as small puffs of white in the chill of the early evening. He could smell the snow in the air. December was a dark, oppressive month keeping people in their homes cozy in plush blankets and roaring fires. His mission tonight was one he did not relish. He gripped the handle of the leather bag swinging at his side. Its contents would change a family’s life forever, whether for better, or worse was up to their interpretation and agreement. It was not his place to comment, or voice his own views. He would read the document as presented and then leave them to the inevitable furor. The date of today’s meeting was circled on his calendar and had been for six years, transferred from one year to another.
When his client, Mrs. Forsyth, came to him all those years ago, he’d tried to keep his shock from showing on his face. The request was not only unusual but life changing in its extreme. The old woman had not shown any emotion as she specified her directive, tutting and raising one finger for silence, when Abraham began to speak.
“This is my decision and I expect you to follow through without question. Is that understood?”
Abraham nodded his assent and wrote out the demands as bullet points on a legal pad. His secretary, Enid, a mid-aged woman whose discretion was unquestionable would transcribe his notes the following morning. If she had any remarks on the document, they would not be voiced, she knew her place. A client’s wishes were sacristan and confidential. A week later, Mrs. Forsyth returned to sign the official documents, paid her bill there and then and left her lawyer’s office without a backward glance. Two months later the elderly woman was dead and Abraham proceeded with the first part of his client’s directions. The Will was read along with the codicil of conditions. He bore the outrage, the suspicions, the wailing at that first meeting within his office walls. Each Forsyth heir was given specific instructions to complete prior to the next stage of the substantial inheritance. Each year there were more specified demands from their deceased mother and the inevitable pushback. Abraham cited he could only follow the instructions and was unable to give them any insight into any further compliance requirements.
Now, the lawyer could deliver the last of the demands and duly keep to Mrs. Forsyth’s last instruction that he deliver the news within the old woman’s study in the expansive family home. Turning left into the treed avenue devoid of the green leafiness of spring and summer, he walked with hesitation in his stride under the twisted bare branches. He pulled back his shoulders and took a deep breath before proceeding along the stone path, bordered with topiary box hedges and tilled earth of the flowerbeds. A porch light lit his way to the ebony front door, and then pushed the elaborate brass door bell. A chime echoed in the entrance way, a place he knew from previous visits, with its black and white checkered tile, oak staircase and gilded portraits.
A balding man in a formal black attire opened the door.
“Good evening, Mr. Squires. May I take your coat, sir?”
Abraham placed his bag on the floor and shrugged out of his heavy coat. The butler nodded and proceeded ahead of him down a corridor to the study. The three heirs were in attendance, anxious to have the meeting concluded.
Abraham nodded to the assembled men, whose tight lipped stares were reply enough. He then sat on one of the arranged antique cherry wood chairs.
“Good evening, gentlemen. As you know this is the final document of your mother’s estate. As per her instructions I am to read it in ordinance to the previously specific conditions. Your individual compliance to those conditions will garner your share of the substantial inheritance. Does anyone have any questions before I proceed?”
Mrs. Forsyth’s three adult sons glanced at each other then shook their heads.
“Very well, do you wish to be informed of the division individually or together?”
George Forsyth, the eldest son, gripped his hands into fists, breathed in then stated, “Get on with it Squires this fiasco has gone on long enough. We all believe Mother was not of sound mind when she came up with this ridiculous idea, but as you have proved that was not the case with her own medical examination report, we just need this over and done with. My brothers and I have compiled. Just read the thing.”
Abraham slid out a large brown envelope from his briefcase and pulled out three bound documents. Each document stated one man’s name in large cursive script on the front.
“If I may, I will read them in birth order?”
“Whatever, man, get on with it,” Said Charles, the middle son. His colouring and nose shape the image of his father, whose portrait hung behind the mahogany desk.
Abraham opened the first document sited as belonging to George, who features and colouring reflected his mother’s own. Clearing his throat he began.
George Forsyth you have adhered to the stipulations set out by your mother in the case of the family business. You are to receive $3 million pounds and the Presidency of the family firm.”
Abraham watched the man’s eyes grow wide and a slow grin appear on his face.
Turning to the middle son, the lawyer spoke again. “In the terms of the conditions, Harold, you have successfully gained your law degree and started your own firm with a degree of success. However, until the finances reach the specified volume you will only receive $2 million pounds and half of your shares until such time as this is achieved. Abraham watched the man straighten his shoulders and look side to side to his brothers. Both gave him a slight shake of their heads.
Confident he could precede, Abraham, opened the last document and relayed it contents to Charles, the youngest son. “Charles, you have completed university and gained entry into Harvard as specified. You will receive your allotted shares in the family firm and $3 million dollars in trust until you reach twenty-five.” Abraham sat back waiting for the men’s responses. He was surprised there was no backlash. Every other meeting had ended with derision and remarks on his professionalism.
George stood first followed by his two brothers.
“Thank you, Squires. Is there any signatures required?”
Abraham placed the three thick documents on the edge of the large leather inlaid desk and pointed to the small tabs on each. Once every one signed their name, Abraham, gave the men their copies and put the file copies in his bag. A chill filled the room and all four men glanced at the window bereft of drapes to see an image in the glass of Mrs. Forsyth nodding before it disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. The four men stood dumbfounded for several moments, before shaking their heads. No one spoke or remarked. Abraham bid the men a good night and left the study. The butler aided him with his coat and opened the front door for him. His stride was hurried as he made his way home that evening. By the next morning he dismissed the vision as a trick of the light or a reflection of a portrait, no doubt.