An Unexpected Legacy

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London, 1976


Holly was on edge. She sat on an uncomfortable chair, in a room full of black-clad relatives, knowing this was the moment that could change her whole life.

The hostile faces of Cousin Colin and his awful wife Deirdre didn't bother her. After all, they stood to inherit the bulk of Uncle Edwin's estate so why should they care if she was there?

Holly was just hoping her great uncle had left her something. Just a small sum, that would enable her to break free of her dreary life on a remote island, thousands of miles away.

Now, with the death of her last surviving relative, she'd had an excuse to come back.

Holly dreamed of staying in England permanently. Getting a flat in London, a job. Spending time with people her own age. But with no money, no qualifications and few skills, it seemed a hopeless idea.

Unless the will contained a generous bequest.

Uncle Edwin's house was surprisingly familiar, given it was many years since she had been there. But she remembered it well. It was gloomy with high ceilings and a lot of yew in the garden. A creepy and mysterious house: great for playing hide and seek during the daytime, but full of shadows at night. Holly remembered searching through old wardrobes hoping to find Narnia. She had always felt the house held a secret, but had never found it.

If there was one, Colin and Deirdre hadn't stumbled across it. They had already started clearing things up; there were cardboard boxes of old saucepans and clothes marked "for charity" in large letters. The items couldn't have had any value because if the couple could have got a penny for them, they would have sold them.

Holly wondered where they'd stashed all the good stuff. She strongly suspected they would have rushed the bulk of it to their house in the Midlands within minutes of Edwin's dying breath.

The larger furniture was still in place. In the hall stood a grandfather clock which she remembered admiring as a child because of the holly leaves carved around its face. Something about it made her linger. Holly touched its dark wood, closing her eyes and letting its aroma transport her back a decade to a happier childhood.

The smell of the past... A hundred years ago or more, someone else might have breathed in this exact same odour. It was a link with a lost age.

Uncle Edwin also owned a lot of old books which someone had started to pack away into boxes. Holly made a mental note to look through them in case there was something worth reading for the journey home. Or perhaps she would uncover a lost will or a treasure map. Uncle Edwin had been something of a traveller in his younger days, as well as doing something classified overseas during his war service.

At the present moment everyone was waiting for the solicitor to arrive and read the will, so they could finally find out who had actually been bequeathed what. Holly smoothed the skirt of the black dress she had borrowed for the funeral. It didn't fit very well and she felt crumpled and shabby.

"We were surprised to see you here after all these years," Deirdre said, her lips pursed in a way that suggested that it was a particularly unpleasant surprise. Cat's bottom lips, Holly thought. "Not being immediate family of course," Deirdre added.

She tapped her cigarette on a cut glass ashtray, doubtless eyeing the crystal for her own home. The cigarette was stained coral from her lipstick. It was a shade that didn't suit her pasty complexion.

"I suppose it's good of you to have come down," Colin said. He didn't look as though he thought it was good at all. He'd never got on with Holly's father as a boy. He didn't understand why Holly had bothered to come all this way now.

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