“Dear Miss Mullens
It is with deep regret that we must inform you of the passing of Miss Josephine Mullens. Upon this occasion we would request your presence at the reading of the testament 10.00 a.m. on Thursday 6th March in our offices. We would ask to please bring method of identification proving that you are the niece of the deceased.
Awaiting your presence we remain
James Fitzsimmons (signed)
Jennifer Mullens read the letter at least three times before she remembered who Aunt Josephine was. She had the dim memory of a tall thin lady with an expression showing “little girls should be seen but not heard” and her mum always making her wash her face until it was shiny before they visited her aunt. “And now I have inherited her possessions. No I don’t believe it, that can’t be true.” Aunt Josephine was a spinster which she seemed to have remained all her life.
“What do you wear for a testament reading?” thought Jenny. She had no-one she could ask. Her parents had died a few years ago and she had no friends that she could confide in. She decided on her black two piece suit. Just plain tailored and her flat black lace up shoes. They were comfortable and should be suitable for a lawyer’s office. Thursday morning came. She got herself ready, a quick glance in the mirror before she left to see that everything was in place, her hair tied back as always neat and tidy.
Good morning Miss Mullens, James Fitzsimmons at your disposal. Please take a seat.”
Jenny was surprised. A tall good looking man, slightly grey at the temples, but smartly dressed was addressing her. There was only one seat vacant.
“When will the others be arriving?” she asked.
“Miss Mullens, your aunt was, well, to put it frankly, she kept herself to herself and had no contacts. She died two months ago and there was only my good self at the funeral and my nephew. It seems that she had no further acquaintances. She knew she was dying - cancer end stage - and gave me a sealed envelop to be opened a month after her death. In this letter she specifies Jennifer Mullins as the sole heir to her fortune.
“Fortune, what fortune? As far as I know she had a large house out in the country somewhere and never got married or had any children.”
“This is partially true Miss Mullens, but she grew up in the house where she was living and inherited it from her own parents. The house and the estate are now worth a considerable amount of money, There is one small clause in your Aunt Josephine’s will however.”
“And that would be.”
“Yes, well, she stipulates that you must live in the house one year before any sale of the said is to be made.”
“Do I have to give my answer today” asked Jenny. The poor girl did not know what answer she should give, but James Fitzsimmons soon helped her on the way to an answer.
“We must also advise that Miss Josephine Mullens’ bank account at the moment amounts to a value of one and a half million pounds sterling which you will be presented with at the end of the year together with the property in question. During this year I am permitted to give you an allowance of five thousand pounds per month.”
What did Jenny say, what we all would say, YES of course.
She returned to her three roomed flat in South London feeling rather strange. She was to live in a house that she did not know and what is more, in a remote village somewhere in Norfolk, a small village on the coast. Well at least she had the sea nearby.
“Oh dear Aunt Josephine, why me” she wondered and took the family photo album in her hands and examined it searching for a photo of Aunt Josephine. She did not have to look far and she found a photo of a lady about her own age (now 50 years old) who could almost have been Jenny’s twin. She was dressed in the same plain and simple clothes that Jenny wore and had the same expression on her face and even her hair was strictly tied back. That night Jenny could not sleep. Many thoughts went through her head, the main one being “will I one day become an Aunt Josephine. I have all the signs, not married, no children and even my sense of dress seems to be the same.”
That week she made arrangements to move to the country. She gave notice at the library where she worked as librarian. There was no problem with the staff. It seemed the head librarian was almost glad to see her go, muttering they were overstaffed and there would be no need to keep her longer than necessary. She had no friends to say goodbye to. The few school friends that she had, were married and had their own families and children and Jenny just lost contact, or they no longer looked for contact with such an elderly spinster as Jenny. She packed her clothes and memories in a small case and bought her ticket for the train journey to Norfolk. She remembered the area as being very flat and when she arrived at the local station she noticed her memory had served her well. Fields stretching into the distance, separated by a few trees here and there and a smell of damp in the air, “probably from the sea” she thought. She then waited at the bus stop just outside the station for her bus to take her to the village of Fennamore where her aunt’s house was. The bus only arrived once every two hours, so she had a wait for at least seventy minutes until it appeared. Eventually she arrived at Mullen manor, as the house was known. It was already nine in the evening and darkness was descending upon the house and the surroundings. She also noticed a faint mist arising from the ground.
She took the key out of her handbag and as she wanted to push the door open it was pulled from the other side. Jenny let out a surprised scream.
“Oh. sorry Miss, I didn’t want to shock you, but my Uncle James, you know Fitzsimmons from the lawyers office, told me to clear the place up a bit and make it sort of homely before you arrived. I am staying just down the road in the village inn, Roger Simmons” and he stretched his hand out to her.
“How do you do Mr. Simmons” she said.
“No, now come on if I leave the Fitz bit out then you can at least call me Roger. I believe you are Jenny.”
Jenny was a bit taken aback. In her book of rules you just did not call a man by his first name until you knew him better, but she was tired from the journey and being honest with herself, she was pleased that she did not arrive at an empty house .
She entered the house expecting a smell of dust and damp, but surprisingly there was the smell of homeliness in the air, coming from the fire that Roger had lit in the fireplace.
“I thought I would warm the place up a bit” he said “after all it has been empty for the last months.”
“Yes, thank you” Jenny answered and was actually grateful that this Roger Simmons person had done this. She was already expecting to see the ghost of Aunt Josephine waiting to welcome her and was relieved that Mr. Fitzsimmons had organised his nephew to take care.
“Well I will leave you to unpack and make yourself comfortable. The bedroom at the top of the stairs on the right has been prepared and I put some food in the pantry in the kitchen so that you won’t have to starve for the first couple of days.”
“Thankyou Mr. S... I mean Roger, very kind of you.”
“No problem Jenny. It seems we will probably be seeing each other from time to time until you have found your way around.” Without waiting for her answer he wished her a relaxing night’s sleep and told her he would call in again the next day and he was gone. Jenny was alone in the house.
On his way back to the village Roger had his own thoughts. Roger was the son for James that he never had. Uncle James was his favourite uncle and he knew that he lived alone since his wife died so many years ago. He was pleased that he could work for Uncle James now and again and James was loved by his family, but this Jenny person. She was one of these women that would probably become an old maid just like her aunt. What a shame he thought, I think we should do something about that.
Jenny decided to climb the stairs to the bedroom as she was feeling weary and worn out. It had been a long day and she just wanted to rest. The door opened to a large room with the bed in the corner next to the window. The room was warm and friendly and the bathroom was just through a connecting door. She decided she would just put on her nightdress, comb her hair and sleep, sleep, sleep. She was looking for a mirror and found in the corner an old dressing table with a mirror and with a chair to match.
“Now this is very comfortable” she thought, unpinned her hair and looked into the mirror with the intention of brushing it. She dropped the brush on the floor and couldn’t believe her eyes. Instead of her own reflection for a few minutes she saw that of a school child, and what more it resembled her own likeness at this age. Oh how pretty she was then, with such curly hair and such a light of self confidence in her eyes. Her hand shook as she picked up the brush, but when she again looked into the mirror she saw her own stern face looking back.
“I must have imagined it” she thought. She went to bed and was asleep in no time.
The next morning she awoke to the sound of cowbells and looked out of the window. Just over the wall to her garden there were pastures with cows grazing. At first she found the noise a disturbance, but then watched the cows and found it quite soothing.
Lunchtime came and she decided to see what this Roger Simmons person had put in her pantry. “Well he certainly knows how to feed someone” she thought to herself and made a meal of the meat and vegetable he had left there. As she was clearing things away there was a knock at the door.
“Hello Jenny, I thought I would look in to see how you are doing.”
“Hello Mrs. Jenny” said a little girl holding Roger’s hand “I’m Megs.”
“Let me introduce you, Megs is my little girl, she’s the smallest of the bunch and wanted to meet you.”
“You are married Roger” asked Jenny
“Oh yes, my wife and my other children, the two boys, are staying in the village. We thought as uncle James said we should help you out for the first few days, we would make a family holiday and stay in the inn in the village until everything is settled. Actually my wife was wondering whether you would like to join us this evening for dinner at the inn.”
“Oh yes”, said Megs “please do.”
That evening Jenny dressed in something smart as far as Jenny fashion was concerned, and arrived at the inn for the evening meal. She found Roger’s wife a very nice person and also the two boys, although not exactly well behaved all the time. Megs had decided to adopt Jenny as her best friend and wanted to sit next to Jenny at the table. At first Jenny felt a bit uncomfortable not knowing anyone, but by the time she went home she found she had long not had such a good and relaxing evening. Roger’s wife Jacky insisted that Jenny should accompany her the next day to the village. Jacky had to visit the hairdressers and thought it would be ideal for Jenny to have a look on her own around the village and do some shopping while she was there.
After dinner Roger dropped Jenny off at the manor in his car and she made her way up to the bedroom. She decided to comb her hair in front of the mirror and saw again the little girl that she was once, but in the background an elderly lady. This lady resembled her Aunt Josephine and for one moment she looked behind her to see if she was standing in the room, but no-one was there. When she returned to the mirror she found she was looking at her own reflection again, but somehow not so serious as the last time. She went to bed, but had troublesome dreams. She was frightened of meeting her end the same way as her Aunt Josephine, with no friends and family.
The next morning Jacky picked Jenny up with her car and they drove into the village together. Whilst Jacky was at the hairdressers, Jenny did some shopping and looked around. The village seemed to be one of those places where time just passes by at a distance and everything remains the same.
“You must be the new lady at the manor” said the lady in the greengrocers. “Very nice to meet you, if you can’t manage the walk to the village just give us a ring and we will deliver. No problem and here is our calling card with the number.”
Jenny thanked her glad to meet such a friendly woman and went to the hairdressers to meet Jacky.
“Hello Jenny I am just finished. If you want to make an appointment as well, my hairdresser said she would have time just after lunch.”
“Well I don’t really visit the hairdressers so often” said Jenny
“Oh come on Aunt Jenny” Megs was there as well, “then you will have lots of curls like my mum.”
“So, Megs, perhaps Aunt Jenny won’t have any curls if her hair is cut. Mine are not natural, Jenny, it’s a perm, but I think you would have natural curly hair.”
The hairdresser came on the scene.
“Yes I think so too, you have beautiful hair Miss, you should show it and not pin it back. Make the world of a difference.”
“Good” said Jacky, “so that’s arranged, after lunch at the hairdressers.”
Jenny was a bit overwhelmed, but decided why not. She had no-one that would care if she looked like a scarecrow or not. And it was done.
Jacky went with her and waited.
“Jenny, that is fantastic. You have beautiful hair and if I may say so you do look very pretty with it cut shorter. It makes a lovely frame around your face.
“Aunt Jenny, you look like the fairy queen” said Megs, although her mother told her that it might be that Aunt Jenny did not want to look like a fairy queen.
Jenny laughed and was surprised herself. Actually she felt like rejoicing. She felt new born. No-one had ever made such a compliment to her looks, no-one had ever really looked at her.”
“That evening she sat in front of the mirror again and was looking at someone different: the same little girl that she saw on the first evening, but this time it was a woman. She heard a sigh behind her and when she looked saw Aunt Josephine, although looking more like a misty apparition than something out of flesh and blood.
“So Jenny, now I can leave you to get on with your life on your own. I just did not want the same thing to happen to you in your last days as myself. Forgotten and alone, no friends to take care of you. Please do not forget me or these words” Aunt Josephine had spoken and as quickly as she arrived she disappeared and Jenny was alone.
“Did I imagine this or was it reality” and that night she slept sound and long.
“Well how are things going with our “heiress” Roger”, uncle James asked his nephew.
“She seems to be feeling quite at home in her new house” was the answer. “I think she will stay”
“Well, I hope she does, but isn’t the place a bit big for her. You know I only like satisfied people as my clients.”
“Yes, well uncle I was going to mention she has invited me and the family to stay for the Easter holidays and Megs will be staying throughout the Summer as Jacky and I were thinking about taking the boys on one of those adventure holidays.”
“Brilliant idea, Roger. I think I will have to call on Miss Jennifer myself to see how she is doing.”
Uncle James paid Jennifer Mullens the first of many visits the following week-end and was so surprised to see the difference in her. Well he thought, she is really a pretty woman and of course he had some financial details to discuss with her.
The year soon passed and Jenny decided to stay at the manor as it was known in the village. However, the house was just too big for Jenny alone and so she was glad of the occasional visits of Roger and his family. She was also quite happy when Uncle James accompanied them and guess what. She really did become Aunt Jenny eventually, but for Megs she was Great Aunt Jenny and for Roger just Aunt Jenny and James found living in the Norfolk countryside was ideal for his health. Of course, Jenny and James made a point of visiting Aunt Josephines grave at least once a month and placing fresh flowers on it. somehow Jenny felt she owed this small token to Aunt Josephine's memory.