“Behind that old mirror, in the sitting room!” Win said. “No-one would look there; besides the room is hardly every used”.
“It that’s what you want, my dear, we can hide it there until the weekend”, Cecil replied. “But we will have to tell your parents very soon”.
“Let’s leave that till the weekend”, she said fearfully. “Perhaps by then we will have news which will change their opinion of you”.
With the certificate safely tucked away, the newly-weds left the house and set out once again on motor bike and side-car, this time to visit Great Uncle William as planned. What was it he said? “Information to prove your inheritance.” What could it mean?
The old man lived in Clapham; several miles from Kingston; and they would need to make haste if they were to be back by nightfall. As they travelled through the streets of Kingston, Win remembered the events of the last two hours wistfully. She gazed ahead dreamily and relived every moment of their whirlwind elopement …
It was Wednesday morning, the 23rd of July, 1924 and Win was anxiously watching the clock on the wall of the office. This was her half day holiday, and she only had to work until 12:00 noon. She had on the pretty floral dress she had borrowed from her friend and she had spent last week’s wages on a new hat with a discreet little veil. This she had hidden in the coat locker ready to snatch when the clock struck twelve. Cecil was going to call for her with his motor bike and side-car and they were to married at the Registry Office in Kingston at 12:30 that afternoon.
The hands of the clock seemed to be moving in slow motion, then finally she was free to go. Her heart was fluttering as she heard the roar of the motor bike engine in the street outside. A very hasty glance in the mirror, the new hat firmly anchored with a hat pin, the seams of her silk stockings straightened, she raced out the door to meet him.
A knight in shining armour astride a white stallion, could not have looked more appealing to her at that moment. Removing his riding goggles he gave her a swift kiss on the cheek and helped her into the side-car.
They reached the Registry Office in moments, or so it seemed. Everything was now moving so fast, in contrast with the slowness of the morning. Before she knew it she was saying “I do” and signing the certificate. She wished her parents could have been there, but they did not have their approval for this marriage. “You’re too young”, they said. Too young, she thought, I am twenty-one and can do as I please. Besides Cec is twenty-four, and well able to care for me. What difference does it make if Mum and Dad, do not approve of him? Their opinion would soon ….
She came back to the present as Cecil shouted at her for the third time,
“Things will change soon, just you wait and see”.
“We’re nearly there, where were you just now, daydreaming?” Cecil queried with a smile.
“I was just thinking about Mum and Dad and what a surprise they will get. But I wish they did not dislike you so much!” Win replied sadly.
“They are only thinking of your welfare. I’m not wealthy enough. I was born with only two valued possessions, my sense of humour and my shadow; but now I have you”.
This filled Win’s heart and brought the tears to her eyes, but brought a smile to her lips, and she blew him a kiss. He was her knight in armour again. How could she fail to love him when he said things like that. The letters she had from him over the two years of courtship were full of such romantic words such as these, and he only had a photograph of her then. She would be forever grateful that her brother Frank had carried that photograph and showed it to his friend, during their days together in the Royal Air Corps.
As they neared their journey’s end, Cecil mused on the possible outcome of their visit to great Uncle William.
What could he possibly have to tell them? He was so mysterious on the telephone when he contacted him. He had not seen his Uncle since the death of his own father, Walter Frederick, in 1914. Apparently the old gentleman had been very close to young Walter and had paid particular interest in Cecil’s development from the time he was born. Cecil remembered that his father had been a Master Tailor and both he and Great Uncle William had hoped that Cecil might follow in his father’s footsteps.
Cecil had other ideas! When his father died he was anxious to obtain employment in order to support himself, his mother, younger brothers and sister. He left school at the age of fourteen and began work as a motor mechanic. The war soon made the furthering of his career impossible, thus he joined the Royal Air Corps at the age of seventeen; (of course he said he was eighteen). It was here that he met up with Win’s brother and saw the photograph of Win, and then began the long courtship.
There was little contact with his Uncle during that time, and so it was a quite unexpected letter from the old man which was taking them to his home at Larkhall Rise today. It seemed doubly mysterious that he should ask to see Cecil today of all days, the day they had chosen to elope. Of course, the honeymoon would not begin until the weekend, and they were quite glad to be filling in the day this way.
There in front of them was Larkhall Rise. It did not appear to have changed at all since Cecil visited ten years ago. Grey, crumbling walls gave a bleak welcome to the young couple as they motored up the sweeping gravel driveway. The house had seen better days and, so it seemed, had its owner, who now approached them at the top of a flight of crumbling stairs. Uncle William was stooped and grey, looking all of his eighty years. He beckoned for them to follow him into the house, shuffling off wordlessly. The young couple exchanged quizzical glances and leaving the motor bike beside an ancient stone pillar, they cautiously climbed the stairs and entered the house.
The Victorian hall in which they now found themselves was in sharp contrast to the dilapidated exterior of the house. It reflected the wealth and social position that Win secretly aspired to, and she was unable to restrain from gasping as she stood in awe of the opulence surrounding her. Every fixture and fitting had obviously been chosen by someone with excellent taste, but the piece that drew her attention was the magnificent oak hallstand displaying an impressive collection of walking sticks. Beside them stood the old man, and once again he beckoned them to follow him into the room beyond. From the pungent odour which assaulted their nostrils, they guessed it was the smoking room. They were directed to sit on a large overstuffed couch covered in a chintz fabric and strewn with a collection of velvet cushions.
These matched the deep red of the heavy velvet curtain which partly obscured the light and gave the room a somber appearance.
Finally the old man spoke, the deep, steady timbre of his voice belying his age.
“I am very glad you have come to see me today. I have something of great importance to tell you and it could not be done by letter. Welcome to my house and please make yourselves comfortable”.
He crossed to an oak tolltop desk in the corner and opened one of the heavily hinged cupboard doors, which creaked as loudly as the old man’s knees as he bent to retrieve something from inside.
“Uncle, we thank you for your invitation today and I would like to introduce you to my new wife, Winifred. We are both very puzzled by your letter and are most anxious to discover what it is that will ‘prove my inheritance’.” Cecil said loudly, not sure if the old man’s hearing was intact. “But we have had a long journey and would be most grateful for a cup of tea”.
“I have here the ancestral records for which I have been searching for the past fifty years. These, my boy, provide the link between one old relic and the other you see before you.” Bowing slightly to Win, he took her hand and kissed it saying, “I am very pleased to greet such a pretty young woman. Forgive an old man his ramblings, my dear, I have spent a long time living alone and forget my manners at times.”
“Come Cecil, pour some drinks.” Reaching for a tray of glasses and bottle of brandy laid ready on a mobile drink caddy.
“We have much to celebrate. Whilst we drink I will tell you the story of my long search”.
The young man poured two generous portions of brandy and one glass of soda water for Win. These he handed round and sat on the couch once more waiting for the old man to settle himself comfortably in a large leather smoking chair.
“The story begins in the late fifteenth century when a man bought a large tract of land, 60 acres, in Brixton, South London. The purchaser was William Angell, a descendant of a man who came to England with King Henry VII in 1485. The property, now called the Angell Estate, is the one that my family has been trying to claim for years. It is now worth approximately sixty millions pounds”.
“Surely you don’t mean that …” Cecil began excitedly.
“Please, allow me to finish the story in my own way. Indulge an old man who has spent the greater part of his life in this quest”. The old man interrupted him and continued with his tale.
“In a will of 1785, the late known descendant, John Angell, stated that the property must remain in the family and only male heirs could succeed. John Angell’s daughter and son-in-law were childless, but it was alleged that the daughter, Mary, had a child out of wedlock and for this reason was prevented from inheriting the estate by this strange clause in her father’s will. At this point in time the ownership of the Estate fell into dispute and many ‘would be’ successors laid a claim to it. The Church of England seized the land and buildings on it and the Chancery held the ownership in trust for over one hundred and fifty years. During that time many have tried to prove their ancestral links with John Angell and succession to the Estate”.
“Mary Angell’s illegitimate child, by the name of Elizabeth Benadict, married one of our clan, and it is evidence of this marriage to Samuel Allery; that has been missing for 200 years. I finally tracked down this vital link, in the registry at St. Clement’s Church, Dartmouth, Devonshire. I have a legal copy of the very page of that register in this box, along with documentation proving the lineage from that marriage to this very day. Luckily there have been sons in each of the marriages since then, from your ancestor Samuel Allery to YOU, Cecil Henry Allery, Lord of Brixton Hall and the rightful owner of the Angell Estate”.
The silence in that smoky room was eerie, as if the whole world was holding its breath. Then with a most unseemly whoop the young couple leapt to their feet, laughing and crying at the same time.
“Uncle, are you certain? This is miraculous, it can’t be true! Am I really a Lord?” Questions, questions, and more questions tumbled from the young man’s lips whilst his young bride just smiled through her tears.
The old man rose from his chair and handed them the box. “You know, the strangest thing about that marriage between Samuel and Elizabeth, all those years ago?”
“What was so strange Uncle? Said Win.
“Well, it seems that young couple were married in a different church in a different village. Everyone had kept quiet about the event. And that is why it remained a missing link all these years. It seems such a strange thing for a young couple to do, even by today’s standards”, the old man replied with a twinkle in his eye.
The young couple just laughed and embraced the old man.