Where There’s a Will
Andrew G Tweeddale
Lord Cecil Facey drummed his fingers on the table. He was not used to being kept waiting, especially by a lawyer. He looked towards the door and then back to his fob watch. The minute hand was pointing to the two. When his daughter had told him to be there at midday, he had expected the meeting to start precisely on the dot. He assumed that this tardiness was because Stern, White & Elston were a small firm in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. This would not have happened with his usual firm of city solicitors.
The boardroom where Lord Facey sat with his daughter, Jane, had a magnificent architrave ceiling with an ornate chandelier of brass. The walls were panelled, and a tall teak bookcase stood against one wall filled with legal texts. A large, circular table dominated the room, around which were positioned twelve chairs. A brown, faded leather sofa was at the far end of the room and a coffee table was in front of it. By the window there were two Chinese pots of that blue and white painted style that had become so popular in Delft. In each pot grew a ficus elastica, or, as Lord Facey knew them, rubber plants.
Jane Facey, petite, mousey and often acerbic lifted the sash window to let some air in on the hot August day. In the square a band was setting up to play a lunchtime concert. A stout man with whiskers was telling each musician where to stand, to button their tunics and put on their embraided caps. People were wandering into the park. Men in khaki, 'hospital boys' in blue, old thin women, tired and brown and young boys - larking around – pushing and chasing each other. Jane turned from the window and looked at her father. The minute hand of his fob watch had now passed the three. She turned back and glared out onto the square.
“Hrumph,” grunted Lord Facey, more to break the monotony than for any other reason and when Jane failed to answer he picked up a copy of The Times and thumbed through it.
“I see that Jerusalem has surrendered to us,” Lord Facey grunted as he looked over the top of the paper. His daughter continued to stare fixedly out of the window of the office. “Really? Are you going to say nothing at all, Jane?”
“What is there to say? You shamed both Mummy and me and I still haven’t forgiven you.”
Lord Facey said nothing but took out a large cigar and lit it.
“I mean,” continued Jane, “how could you?”
Lord Facey could hardly blame himself for the events that had happened and most, if not all of them, he thought to himself, were out of his control. First, there was the stroke he had over a year ago - brought on by high blood pressure because of too much brandy, the finest Cohibas and a bout of exertion that was generally uncommon for him. When two months later he was asked at his club about the events leading up to the stroke, he answered that he was with his mistress and was “riding her like a mare in the Kentucky Derby.” Not only did this result in some backslapping; it also earned him the sobriquet of ‘Racy Facey’ by some wag.
Things were thereafter fine for a while. He was back on his feet and except for some slight slurring of his speech, which had, on occasion, existed prior to the stroke, he seemed to all intents and purposes to be as fit as a fiddle. He returned to his office and even made time to attend the House of Lords for the occasional debate. He was greeted cheerfully with "on the mend, Racy" and the Earl of Morton even referred to him as the Right Honourable Lord Racy Facey, at a dinner at the Guildhall. It was, however, this last comment that resulted in a gutter press paper printing an article describing the low morals of the highest House. On page 3, in black and white, for all the world to see, were the lines ‘Racy Facey rides his mare’. He could not believe that someone at his Club would have breached the Charterhouse rules and spoken to a journalist, and he felt he had no option but to complain vehemently to the secretary of the Club to root out the snake in the grass.
Like a pebble that is thrown into a pond, the breach of Club etiquette had unintended and far-reaching consequences. Cecil Facey’s wife initially banished him from their home in Chelsea and his daughter refused to speak to him. He therefore made his way to his estate at Havering-atte-Bower, as he considered that moving in with his mistress into a small flat in Kensington would be too demeaning. However, there are some events, like the prophesies of Cassandra, that should not be ignored and for Lady Edith Facey this was the impending engagement of her daughter Jane to Adrian Drewe in November 1916. Therefore, one month after her husband’s exile to the wastelands of Essex, she demanded his return to discuss the forthcoming marriage of their only daughter. Despite a beautiful October evening in Chelsea, the meeting was frosty. Lady Edith Facey, for the sake of her daughter’s marriage, agreed that her husband could return to the family home and that a small and discrete wedding at their estate in Havering-atte-Bower would take place. Jane Facey, however, had other ideas and, although she could not change the minds of her parents about a small and discrete wedding, she did, one evening over cocktails, tell a friend of hers who worked for The Times about her forthcoming nuptials and that if he wanted a scoop, he had better tell no one or mention the misdemeanours of her father in the article. On a cold and bitter lunchtime in November 1916, at the Facey’s estate in Havering-atte-Bower, Adrian Drewe asked Jane the question: “Would you do me the honour of marrying me?”
It would be fair to say that the wedding ceremony of Jane to Adrian in the following July of 1917 went off as planned, although a casual observer might have commented that neither bride nor groom looked particularly happy about the affair. It may, of course, have been wedding nerves or a myriad of other reasons but, if truth be told, Jane felt that her day as a princess was underwhelming, and Adrian simply was not in love with the girl to whom he said, “I do.” As Jane was later heard to say to her maid of honour: “Who in their right mind wants to get married in a boring flint church on a non-descript green in Essex with almost no-one there.”
The marriage was short, and the days of Jane and Adrian together could be counted on one hand or, more precisely, one finger. Adrian returned to Ypres the day after the wedding and ten days later was killed in a German attack. His belongings, a cigarette case, Bible, letters, flask, watch and revolver, as well as his wallet were sent to his mother at Wadhurst Hall, who was still recorded as next of kin. She forwarded them on to Stern, White & Elston and, a month later, Mr Stern, of the firm, wrote to Jane Drewe (née Facey) as the next of kin and asked her to attend his offices to deal with various personal matters including her late husband’s estate. Jane asked her father to attend with her because, although she continued to have misgivings about his character and rarely spoke a word to him, he was, after all, a man of the world.
Mr Anthony Stern walked into the boardroom where Lord Facey was sitting and where Jane still stood beside the window. He greeted them, introduced himself and said that he would be discussing Mr Adrian Drewe’s estate. Jane closed the window and sat next to her father. Mr Stern apologised that the co-executor of the will, Sir Julius Drewe, was not able to attend for health reasons. Lord Facey was aware that Adrian’s father, Sir Julius, had had a heart attack after receiving news of his son’s death and made some polite sounds - saying that he hoped Sir Julius was ‘on the mend’. Mr Stern explained that he had spoken at length to Sir Julius prior to calling the meeting. Anthony Stern sat with window behind him and the sun shining in, so that Lord Facey and Jane had to squint at him whenever he spoke. He placed before him a small pile of papers and a cardboard carton, which was not much bigger than a lady’s shoe box.
“There are some complexities with the estate,” said Mr Stern, who arranged a set of pince-nez carefully on his nose. He looked at Lord Facey, assuming that he would be the one who would be speaking.
“Complexities?” said Lord Facey, as he puffed on his cigar. “What type of complexities?”
“The will,” said Mr Stern, “is dated 5 August 1914 and was made by Mr Adrian Drewe the day after he enlisted. He came to our offices, and I prepared the will personally with him.”
“I assume, therefore,” said Lord Facey, trying to give off an air of bonhomie, “that the will is perfectly drawn up and valid?”
“Yes and no,” said Mr Stern. Lord Facey spluttered and instantly demanded to know what the problem was. “There is nothing wrong with the will,” continued Mr Stern, “and it leaves everything to Mr Drewe’s next of kin, who at that time were his parents and brothers.”
“However,” said Jane, who had been listening quietly, “I am now the next of kin and so everything comes to me, is that correct?”
“Forgive me,” said Mr Stern, who ran his fingers through his hair as he thought how best to answer, then simply ended up saying, “but, yes and no.” He poured a glass of water from a pitcher and passed it to Lord Facey, who was again spluttering.
“Where a will is drafted prior to the marriage of the deceased, the will generally becomes null and void on the marriage and the laws of intestacy apply.”
“So, the will is invalid,” said Lord Facey. “And, under the laws of intestacy, my daughter receives the whole of the estate, is that correct?”
“Oh dear,” said Mr Stern, “my next answer may not be what you want to hear – but, yes and no.” Mr Stern, looked up from his file at Lord Facey, who had gone a queer shade of puce. “Let me explain. There is a codicil to the will which Mr Drewe prepared a day before his engagement to your daughter in November 1916. The codicil provides that Mr Drewe’s house in Drewsteignton will pass to Mr Christian Drewe specifically and that the will is not to be revoked even if the impending marriage to your daughter takes place. In this case, the ‘pre-marriage will’ is not revoked when the subsequent marriage happens.” Mr Stern emphasised the word ‘not’.
“So, let me get this clear,” said Lord Facey, who seemed to be floundering with the detail, “The will is valid, and Jane inherits the whole of Adrian’s estate, except for the house in Drewsteignton.”
Mr Stern smiled. “Exactly,” he said. “I see you’ve grasped it.”
Lord Facey smiled. The recently bereaved Jane Drewe also smiled.
“And” said Lord Facey, “what precisely is the value of the estate?”
Mr Stern stared up at the ceiling and considered the question for a moment. “That is more difficult to ascertain as it’s made up of many personal items. If I may,” he said, and stretched over and gave the box he had placed on the table to Jane. She opened it and saw a cigarette case, watch, Bible, letters, flask, revolver, as well as a wallet.
“You’re not telling us that this is the whole of Adrian Drewe’s estate,” said Lord Facey.
“Of course not,” said Mr Stern, who allowed himself a rare smile. He shuffled through his pile of papers until he found the document he was looking for and passed it to Jane. “These are you husband’s personal possessions from his apartment in Mayfair and the house at Drewsteignton. As you will see there are some pieces of art as well as one or two pieces of silverware and ...”
“And the value of these belongings?” demanded Lord Facey.
“The value,” replied Mr Stern, “lies in its personal value to your daughter.” He once again looked up at the ceiling as if he were concerned that a heavy weight may bear down on him. “But, in financial terms we have estimated that the estate is worth, for inheritance tax purposes, about one thousand one hundred guineas.”
“And what about our apartment in Mayfair?” asked Jane.
“I’m afraid that the apartment was not owned by Mr Adrian Drewe. It is the property of the Home and Colonial Stores and your husband had a licence to reside there.”
“But I’m living there now,” Jane retorted.
“As I said,” continued Mr Stern, “I am afraid that it did not belong to him and therefore does not belong to you.”
Jane looked at her father, as tears began to well up in her eyes. “Do something” she mouthed.
Lord Facey may not have had many qualities as a husband or a father, but when called up on by his daughter to ‘do something’, he felt had no option but to act. He pushed back his chair, got up and stood over the diminutive Mr Stern. It was something he had seen David Lloyd George do on occasion around the cabinet table, whenever he wanted to rescue a situation.
“I have a forty percent interest in the Home and Colonial Stores. My daughter and Adrian were given twenty percent of the company when they married. Are you telling me, Mr Stern, that my daughter has no right to continue living in that apartment in Mayfair which is owned by the company that we own?”
Jane, with her cornflower blue eyes, dressed in black for the occasion, beamed at her father. It was in fact the first time she had smiled at him for nearly a year since the publication of that scurrilous story. She suddenly felt that everything had not been lost and that her father had come to her rescue. Unfazed by the situation Mr Stern looked at Lord Facey.
“Please sit down,” he said.
“I prefer to stand,” said Lord Facey.
“If you must,” said Mr Stern. “However, the wedding gift of the shares was conditional.” Mr Stern handed a copy of the Deed of Gift to Jane, ignoring her father who still stood looking down at him. “Please turn to page two,” he said directly to Jane. He then stopped, looked up at Lord Facey and said: “You might want to read this too.” And with just a few words in a quiet and unassuming way, Lord Facey was forced to sit and look over his daughter’s shoulder as she read the terms of the gift.
“What does this exactly mean for me?” Jane asked after she had read through the document.
“For you,” said Mr Stern, “it means that you have no interest in the Home and Colonial Stores.” Once again Jane looked at her father and mouthed the words “do something.” However, Lord Facey was trying to catch up. Detail was not his forte. Although he had never read the terms of the gift, he had understood that an outright gift had been made to his daughter and son-in-law and the words simply didn’t make sense to him. He suddenly felt that he needed a glass of cognac.
“We’ll take it to our lawyers,” he said.
“Of course,” said Mr Stern. “Please take the copy I have given to your daughter. However, the terms of the wedding gift are quite clear. There is a single gift to both parties, and it is conditional on the marriage ‘surviving’ for two years or the birth of a child. As you will see on page one of the gift, the definition of ‘surviving’ means that there could be no divorce, separation, or death of either the bride or groom in that period and that in the event of such an occurrence, the shares would immediately and irrevocably revert back to Sir Julius Drewe.”
Jane started getting up.
“Sir Julius did foresee that you might find this news upsetting,” said Mr Stern. “Therefore, before you go, I have been instructed to make you an offer.” Lord Facey was all for leaving then and there as he felt that any further time with this lawyer would not be to his daughter’s advantage. However, Jane made it clear that they would lose nothing by listening to the offer. “The offer’s quite generous,” continued Mr Stern, “given the length of the marriage.” Jane sat down and Lord Facey again sat next to her.
“Go on,” Jane said.
“Sir Julius would prefer not to have his family's affairs exposed before the courts or raked over in the press.” He looked at Lord Facey and smiled. “He has therefore proposed the following. That the apartment in Mayfair in which you currently live be passed to you with a life tenancy and, in return, the personnel possessions of Adrian Drewe that you do not wish to keep be returned to his family.”
“Is that it?” said Lord Facey.
“Not precisely,” said Mr Stern, who thought for a second about saying ‘yes and no’ but realised that Lord Facey may not find the response humorous. “There are two other conditions. First, that this agreement is recorded as a settlement against the estate of Adrian Drewe and Sir Julius Drewe and second, that each year until your daughter re-marries, she holds a luncheon in memory of Mr Adrian Drewe.”
“What precisely do you mean by a ‘settlement against the estate of Adrian Drewe and Sir Julius Drewe’?” asked Jane.
“Sir Julius is of the opinion that the terms of the gift are clear, and the shares have reverted to him. If you accept the offer, you would be accepting that you have no legal or other right to the shares.” Mr Stern took out another document from his folder. “Sir Julius has asked that you be given the fullest possible details about the value of the apartment and the value of the shares. In round terms,” continued Mr Stern, who re-arranged his pince-nez to read the document, “the value of the shares is worth just short of £1.2 million whereas the apartment in Mayfair has a value of £29,000 according to the company’s valuation.”
Lord Facey could not see the point of remaining any longer. In his opinion, Sir Julius Drewe was welching on a gift and mud should be hurled at his name. “Is Sir Julius actually suggesting that my daughter gives up an entitlement to £1.2 million for a mere £29,000?” he asked, as he again got up from the table.
“What is being offered is life tenancy of an apartment worth £29,000 for Mr. Adrian Drewe’s personal possessions. Neither Sir Julius nor this firm believes that your daughter has any entitlement to the company’s shares, as the terms of the gift were conditional, and, as you are aware, the condition has and cannot be met.”
“We’ll take this to our lawyers,” repeated Lord Facey.
Mr Stern ran his fingers through his hair.
“Sir Julius has instructed me that this is a take it or leave it offer. If it is not accepted by the close of business today the offer will lapse. With that in mind, Sir Julius asked that your usual lawyer attend our offices to advise you on the terms of the gift and your options. He should have arrived fifteen minutes ago and should be waiting outside.”
Two hours later when Jane Facey left the offices of Stern, White & Elston the band in the park were packing up their instruments. They looked tired, having played for most of the lunchtime. The children still ran around uncaring in the late summer sun. Jane got into the hansom cab and said to the taxi driver: “Take me home, 8 Mount Row, Mayfair.” She was now the life tenant of an apartment in Mayfair. She had decided to take only a few of Adrian’s personal effects - the Bible and his letters. She would read his correspondence when she had a moment.
© Andrew Tweeddale (April 2023)
The moral rights of the author are asserted.