Monday, 5 February 2007

Chapter 14

Someone once said that life is a succession of lessons, which must be lived to be understood. If this were true, then there were - could only be - a handful of people in the world who had learned the lesson of distrust more than Lillian McFry. Now, as she sat contemplating Dr Dacre Lawrence’s offer, she drew heavily on that learning. He had told her that he was authorized by the governors of the North of England Museum of Labour History to offer her the sum of £10,000 for her medals. A sum, he had assured her, much more than she could obtain if she were to send these to an auction. “Provided, of course, that the certificate proves to our satisfaction that these are what we think they are,” he had added.

She had paused a while, before replying: “While I may well have considered selling them, Dr Lawrence, I can assure you that these medals are rare ones. I can challenge you to find their like anywhere in England, and if I were to live, God forbid, another century, I doubt you would.”

Lawrence had looked at her, wondering again whether he might not have underestimated her. He realized, for the first time, how little he really knew about his prey. Perhaps he should have spent a little more time fleshing out what little he did know before he had made his approach? Too late, now. He would have to draw upon all his powers of persuasion.

“Madam, I am fully aware of their importance. Our museum would dearly love to acquire them, and to provide for them the honourable home they justly deserve.”

Home. The very word hit Lillian with a force she hadn’t expected. Her life had been a full one – fuller than many women you would meet, but her spiritual ‘home’ had been fractured and torn apart. “Four plus three equals one,” she found herself saying to her visitor, as much surprising herself with the words as she did him. “But I don’t expect you to know what that means,” she had added, “not, at least, unless you were ever there.”

Lawrence was growing more impatient. “Mrs McFry. If I may be candid, you are an old woman. Your husband was a great man. His contribution to the labour movement should be properly recognized. Without a family to follow you, please consider my offer. We believe it to be more than generous. The medals, and the certificate, will have pride of place in our collection, I can assure you of that. And I have the chequebook with me, so if you were to agree to the sale the money would be yours today.” He had patted his chest as he said this.

Lillian McFry sat up a little straighter, and glared at Lawrence. “Your offer, or their offer” she said, letting him know that she had noticed his slip “is quite meaningless. The dealer who valued these medals was a crook. That he share’s your company makes me very much question your own background, Dr Lawrence. I cannot sell you the medals, because I no longer have them. So perhaps it was time you got back into your car,” and here she gestured to the window, where she could just make out the shiny silver of the Mercedes, “and went back to the work for which the State no doubt pays you handsomely”.

Dacre Lawrence felt the wound of her ‘I no longer have them’ harder than he might have shown. Did this mean she had sold them? Or had she given them to someone for safekeeping? And she hadn’t mentioned the ‘certificate’. But the most pain came from the barbed, final comments that reminded him, in an instant, of how his father had once spoken to him. He knew, though, that it was pointless now to argue. With difficulty, he eased his heavy frame from the armchair, and forced a smile.

“Perhaps, madam, you are right. It’s time I was going back to work.” He moved towards the doorway and the passageway, turned to face Lillian, who had also (though with less of a struggle) stood up. “Please don’t worry – I shall let myself out. And if you should ever decide you wish to reconsider my offer, please get in touch. My number’s on this card.” He reached inside his jacket and fished out a business card. Lillian took it from him, without a word.

As he walked up to the front door, he saw a figure through the frosted panel of glass, and just as he was turning the handle the doorbell rang. He opened the door, to the surprised face of the local postman, who collected himself and said: “Special Delivery for Mrs McFry. Is she alright?” Lawrence, too, composed himself quickly: “Yes, yes – I’m merely visiting her,” and edged past the postman and made his way up the path towards where his car and driver were waiting. As he got into the car, he saw the postman and Lillian McFry exchanging words as she moved a pen, with some difficulty, across the proof of delivery card the postman was holding.

“Back to the surgery,” he snapped at his driver, and the car purred away out of the quiet cul-de-sac, leaving in its train a trail of twitching curtains, and enough gossip-fodder to fuel the lunchtime discussions in at least a dozen of the houses it passed. Dacre Lawrence, meanwhile, was smarting inside, even as his mind was trying to process who it might be who would be sending little old Lillian McFry a registered, air mail package which, he had just had time to notice, was covered in its right hand corner with French stamps.

Lillian, meanwhile, had retreated into her lounge, pausing only to wipe the lipstick from her thin lips before she sat once more before the desultory heat of her fire, and pulled open the flap of the package she’d just taken delivery of.


Theresa111 said...

At least now I am able to stop worrying about Lillian now that that man left!

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Yes - Lillian's safe (for the moment...)!
Kind Regards