The opening of Patricia Trevor's café, Patty's Pans, marked a significant upswing in her business. She had started the café with a staff of two, one for the breakfast rush who stayed until lunch was over, and another who arrived just before lunch and stayed until closing time at five o'clock. This was in addition to the staff who helped with the baking of bread and cakes for sale at Evelyn's store and other outlets.
It was not long before she was made aware of another potential rush, this one in the early evening. So many people came hurrying in at a quarter to five, and a number were very disappointed when they arrived perhaps a few minutes after five o'clock to find the 'Closed' sign in the door.
"Can you not make it six o'clock instead of five?" she heard regularly. "It would give us time to tidy up after work, and still come in for a coffee and a bit of chat with a friend or two."
Patty was not one to turn down a friend. She did her sums, worked out what would be needed to make the extra hour a success, and hired a part-timer to help out. She finally decided to extend her hours not by one hour, but by two and see what happened.
She made it clear to her customers that this was an experiment, which could be reduced or even removed, but offered more than just coffee and a bit of cake. People coming in at five o'clock or later, she reasoned, might very well prefer something more substantial, and she offered pasties, toasted sandwiches and the like.
Her prices, as always, were eminently reasonable, and it happened more and more that a mother would bring her children for their evening meal, and even fathers showed up with their families. One day, when she arrived at the Stonemason's Arms for her monthly dinner evening, Sid Colton, the landlord, took her on one side.
"You're not thinking of competing with me for the evening customers, are you, Patty?" he asked. "Cos that wouldn't be good for business - for either of us."
"Bless you, no, Mr Colton," she said. "We're in a different class, both time-wise and with what's on offer."
"How do you mean?"
"My café closes at seven. Your food customers don't really start to arrive until after that. And I've only got a few items on offer, and only the pasties and toasted sandwiches are warm. I just give the over-worked grown-ups a place to come and relax before they go home, and maybe something to take the edge off their hunger. I'll bet many of them come in here later in the evening for a pint or a G and T with their friends."
She laid a hand on his arm.
"Keep an eye on your sales, Mr Colton. If you see a big drop in food takings, let me know, and we'll see what we can do about it."
"That's fair enough," said Sid, and no more was said about her evening opening hours.
"Things are going well for you, Patty," said Wilf Thackeray one February day.
Wilf was the owner of the old house which Patty had converted to a café, and the place where she now baked her cakes and bread for the retail outlets. He came in almost every day for a cup of tea and a bun, and quite often stayed over lunch and had a sandwich or a sausage, egg and beans platter, for none of which Patty charged him.
Patty smiled in agreement.
"But it's hard work," she said. "Up at the crack of dawn for the day's baking, and working right through till seven in the evening. Not that I'm here all day," she added. "I've got good staff and they take a lot of the load off my shoulders."
"They're well-paid, too, from what I hear. There's more trying to get on the payroll than fighting to get off it!"
"Pay 'em well and they'll do a good job. That's my motto."
"Seems to work," said Wilf.
"Anyway, how are things at the old folks' home?" she asked.
Wilf's face fell.
"It's okay, I suppose," he said. "There's just not enough to do. I like to keep myself occupied, but what can I do there? I'm not that much of a reader. There's no shed to do a bit of woodwork in. The council looks after the garden and doesn't like outside help, and everything they plant is flowers. No fruit bushes, no apple trees, no vegetables..."
His voice trailed off.
"How are you at singing?" asked Patty. "You could join the choir."
"Aye, I can sing a bit. But that's only one evening a week most of the time."
Patty was called away to serve a customer, and the opportunity to talk more about Wilf's problem evaporated for the time being. But a few days later - it was a Monday, which was usually quieter than other days - she poured herself a mid-morning cup of tea, took a cheese and tomato sandwich from the display, and went to sit with him.
"I've been thinking about what you said," she began. "... that you had nothing to do. Well, out at the back there are dozens of fruit bushes, there are apple trees and a pear tree. There's a big kitchen garden and a greenhouse, and frames along the back wall outside the bakery. If you want to do some gardening, you can come and help me. I usually try to get out there in the afternoons, if it's fine."
Wilf's face brightened noticeably.
"Really?" he said.
"Of course. I'll be glad of the help. And the company," she added quickly. "After all, you still own the place."
Wilf was not slow to act on Patty's suggestion. The very next morning she looked out of the window of the bakery in the old smithy and saw him at work, turning one of the beds, a box full of seed potatoes on the ground beside him. She went out to watch him.
"You're at it early, Mr Thackeray," she said. "I don't come out till after lunch."
"Aye, but I don't work in the café or the bakery," he replied with a smile. "You'll be welcome to join me when you can get away."
And so it was. Patty joined him later that day and before tea time they had turned the bed and planted Wilf's seed potatoes, and additionally prepared more ground for carrots and onions.
Patty could not be in the garden every day, nor did she want to be. And for Wilf, too, it was not his job. Gardening for them both was a pleasure which hopefully would give some return. Sometimes they just sat in a couple of deck chairs and talked. Sometimes a few days would pass and they would not meet except in the café when Wilf came in for a cup of tea or a sandwich for lunch.
On one of these occasions, when they were sitting together over an afternoon cup of tea and a bun, Patty asked him about his life away from her café.
"How do you get on with the other people at the ..."
She hesitated, not wanting to say "old folks' home".
"... old Manor House," she ended lamely, giving the building the name by which it had been known for generations of villagers.
Wilf thought for a few moments.
"It's alright, I suppose," he said finally. "Some of them are a bit past it, and there's only one television set, so it's a case of the majority deciding, and the majority seems to prefer something other than what I want to see. I've actually been thinking of getting myself a little television in my room, but ..."
He fell silent.
"And the food's not up to much either," he went on after a short silence. "That's why I come here so much. Good food, and plenty of variety. And if I eat a good lunch here, I can usually manage with a cheese butty and a cup of tea in the evening."
"I'm sorry to hear you don't think it's up to much," said Patty sympathetically. "Does it cost a lot?"
"Aye, that it does," said Wilf. "But what option have I got at my age?"
"Well, why don't you move back here?" suggested Patty. "I've several rooms I still don't use. In fact the whole of the top floor is more or less empty. You could have your own little flat up there, do your own cooking or come down and eat with us, watch your own telly. And we're always here and can give you a hand if you get ill or something, or just want a bit of company."
"But this is your place now," he said. "Well, I own it, right enough, but you've rented it for your business. It doesn't seem right that I should take it back, like, even if it's only a bit of it."
"Perhaps you're right," said Patty, and Wilf's face fell. "Perhaps we should ask Mr Pelham to see how we can make it all right," she went on, and Wilf became more cheerful again.
True to her word, Patty called in on her solicitor, Algy Pelham, the next day and explained the situation to him.
"I don't see that there will be any problem," he said. "But it might be an idea to formalise the arrangement with a rental agreement between you and Wilf whereby he rents a certain amount of the property from you for a sum of money."
"Oh, I wasn't thinking of making him pay," said Patty.
"Well, it could be a nominal sum, say a quid a month. But don't forget he's paying a fortune at the old folks' home. He could afford to give you a little something, sort of a rebate on the rent. Doesn't he eat at the café?"
"Oh, but I don't charge him for that," protested Patty.
"But if it becomes three square meals a day, seven days a week and elevenses and afternoon tea, it soon mounts up."
Patty began to hesitate.
"Why don't you suggest he pop in here sometime, and we can talk it over. I think I know how you feel about it so I won't be too hard on him!"
And so it was arranged, and Wilf moved back to his old home. Patty helped him fix up two of the rooms on the first floor, as he didn't want to have to climb up all the stairs even for the sake of having a whole floor to himself. And Wilf arranged with Algy that the rent he paid would go directly to Richard Mason and not via Patty so that she might not know how much they had settled on.
Wilf came down about eight o'clock every morning and made breakfast for himself, and for Patty and whoever was on duty with her that morning. Often it would be a bacon, egg and beans type of breakfast, and the bakery and café staff were grateful not to have to make their own breakfast. Lunch he ate in the café, and dinner he also fixed for himself and Patty when she had closed for the day.
The system worked well. Both were satisfied with the arrangement. In August Wilf revived the old idea that he join the choir, and every Monday evening he set off to rehearsals, and sang in several concerts during the darker months of the year. In the autumn they worked together on the harvest from their garden. Some of the berries and fruits were used fresh on cakes, buns and with ice-cream in the café. Others were preserved, either bottled or frozen for use during the winter. Wilf repaired an old cold store in the garden for the storage of potatoes, carrots and other vegetables, and their harvest was sufficiently large to see them through the winter and most of the spring.
Patty was in a quandary as Christmas approached. She would be spending the day with her family, but didn't want Wilf to be alone at that time. The problem was solved by Wilf paying the old folks' home for Christmas day meals, and on Boxing Day Patty took him home to her family. The pattern of their lives picked up again after the Christmas and New Year holidays and before they knew it the weather improved and they again began to spend time in the garden.
In this way four years passed, and each year drew to its close, and another began and Patty's business grew slowly but surely. She was not in a hurry to have it outgrow her ability to keep control.
One day in May Patty came into the kitchen after the breakfast rush in the café hungry for her own breakfast, and was surprised to find the stove cold, and no sign of Wilf. She went upstairs and knocked on the door, then went inside to wake him. But when she came into his bedroom, she saw that Wilf would not be waking up again. She sat on the bed beside him and took his cold hand in both of hers, and just looked at him in silence for quite a while. A tear or two ran down her cheek, and she finally went back downstairs.
"Can you fix us breakfast today?" she asked one of the staff, and herself went to the telephone to call the health centre. She explained her errand, and a short while later an ambulance came to take Wilf away.
She called in extra help so that she herself would be free, and began a series of telephone calls. During the course of the day she contacted his son and daughter, and in agreement with them, made arrangements with the vicar for the funeral service. She placed an announcement in the local paper and printed out two small posters, one of which she placed on the door of the café, the other inside, on a little table beside the cash desk, where there was also a list where people could sign their names if they wished to come to the funeral. And finally she phoned the old folks' home to tell them and to ask them how many of the residents they thought would want to attend the funeral.
She reported back on all this to his son and daughter, and told them that she had room for one of the families in Wilf's apartment, and that she could make arrangements for the other family at the Stonemason's Arms or alternatively, she would try to arrange to borrow temporary beds, in which case she could put them up on the empty second floor.
She also arranged a meeting with Algy Pelham and her accountant, Richard Mason, to discuss the situation in respect of the building which housed her café and bakery. Algy Pelham gave them the situation with regard to the house.
"You have a contract which has a little under two years to run," he said. "They can't do anything about that. Either they have to sell with you as resident tenant, or they have to give you notice when the contract is due to run out, and accept your payments of rent until such time as you leave."
What do you think they're going to want to do?"
"I spoke to them about this. Angela thinks Robert is going to want to sell. He's apparently not too well off. She herself is not bothered. I told her I thought they'd have to wait a couple of years as you just said, but that didn't seem to worry her. The big question is will I be able to buy the place, and can I afford it?"
"When I heard that Wilf was dead I contacted his estate agent," said Richard. "He gave me his idea of what the property could fetch, but he reminded me that there were no takers when it was on the market last time, so he's revised downwards the price Wilf was after then. And another thing he pointed out. As you've said, you have a contract for the rest of this year and then a year's notice. That's nearly two years and that's going to affect the price even more, maybe as much as five or ten thousand pounds. But it's still an big property for this village."
"Would I be able to afford it?"
"Depends on what sort of a deal you can get from the bank, but up to a certain price, I think so."
He told her the top price he thought she could afford.
"My guess is that you'd have to pare everything else back as far as you could," he said. "It might make it difficult for you to expand any more for a few years."
Patty was silent for a few moments.
"The first thing to do, I think, is to find out what sort of price they would be looking for," said Richard. "They might be willing to lower the price even more than I've calculated for a quick sale."
"I'll speak to them after the funeral," she said.
The day of the funeral approached, and Wilf's daughter, Angela, her husband and two children arrived from Canada, and were housed on the second floor. His son, Robert, and his family arrived the evening before the day of the funeral, and they were placed in the rooms where Wilf had been living. The three of them, Angela, Robert and Patty, gathered in the café after closing time.
"What about catering for people who come to the funeral?" was the first question asked by Robert. "Have you made any arrangements for that?"
"Yes," said Patty. "Patty's Pans will see to that."
"You'll be making a profit from my dad's death?"
Robert's voice was sharp.
"No," said Patty.
"You're doing it at cost?" Robert asked in surprise.
"No. There's no charge. It's our - my - tribute to him. He's rented this house to me for my business all this time. Much of the time he's lived here. He's helped me in the garden. He's been company in the evenings when I'm tired. It's my present to the two of you."
Robert had the grace to look a little shame-faced at his questions.
"Thank you," said Angela.
"Yes, thank you," added Robert.
"The funerals at eleven tomorrow?" asked Angela.
"Yes. The choir's going to sing. I don't know if you knew that Wilf sang in the choir, so they're doing it for free, too. I've arranged with the florist for a wreath from each of you. Maybe you can call in there tomorrow to pay for them. And I suppose you will take care of the vicar's fee?"
"The café is closed tomorrow, so we only have to get breakfast for ourselves. How about eight o'clock?"
"That sounds fine," said Angela. "We'll help."
"Thank you," she said.
The funeral went well. There were about forty people from the choir and ten from the old folks' home plus three of the staff.
"The other oldies weren't really up to it," explained one of the nurses.
After the service the vicar announced that those who wished were welcome to come to Patty's Pans for a funeral lunch, and there was a mass exodus from the church to the café where the choirmaster, Harold Mason, and one or two other brave souls made short speeches, and Angela thanked them all for coming, and Patty for providing the lunch, and slowly people began to leave.
When all but family had left, Patty felt the need to be alone, and wandered out into the garden where she sat on one of the benches. After a little while Angela joined her, and the two women compared notes on the day, and concluded that it had been a success, and that Wilf would have been pleased to know that so many people had come to pay their respects.
"How long will you be staying?" asked Patty when there was a lull in the conversation.
"Until Tuesday, if that's alright with you. On Monday we've been called to the solicitors for the reading of the will. That's in Winstable."
"No, that's no problem," replied Patty. "I thought you'd have something like that to do. We're not open for breakfast over the weekend, but we start at eleven, and close at five. So breakfast will be as it was today, just us, until Monday."
"Fine," said Angela and stood up to go back inside.
"Have you agreed your plans for the café?" asked Patty, and Angela sat back down again.
"Why do you ask?"
"If you definitely decide to sell, I'd appreciate it if you let me know as soon as possible so I can start to look for a new property to rent."
"Oh, we'll do that, of course. Actually, living as we do in Canada, I could see the advantage of having a property in Stoke Fercroft where we might be able to stay for a few days if we came on a visit."
"Do you visit Stoke Fercroft much?"
"No," she said. "This is our first visit since I left for Canada fifteen years ago."
"So actually you wouldn't miss it that much."
"I suppose not. But couldn't you buy it?"
"I don't know. It depends on the price. My accountant thinks I could manage but it would be a strain on the business."
Angela went inside and Patty remained at her seat in the garden. She was somewhat startled when her cellphone signalled an incoming call, from a number she did not know. It proved to be a Mr Evans, from Wilf's solicitors in Winstable calling to advise her that she should come to the will-reading on Monday.
"Why do I have to be there?" she asked in some surprise.
"You're one of the beneficiaries," replied Mr Evans. "Don't worry, it's nothing unusual. There are two other beneficiaries outside the family who will also be coming."
Patty confirmed the time of the appointment and rang off.
Shortly after breakfast on the Monday Patty told Angela and Robert about the solicitor's call and that she was expected to be there, too, along with some other beneficiaries. She offered the other two a lift in her car.
On arrival Mr Evans invited them into a conference room on the table of which a number of documents were laid out. In addition to the three of them there was a representative from the old folks' home and Harold Mason, representing the choir.
Mr Evans began by listing the assets of Wilf's estate, together with the approximate value of each item. The principal items were the building occupied by Patty and a number of investment accounts which had been running for some time, from which Wilf had scarcely made any withdrawals over the last few years.
"And now to the Will itself," he said and opened the envelope. There are three recent codicils, all made at the same time last Autumn."
"He began to read the legal document through the "I, Wilfred James Thackeray ... sound mind ... give and bequeath ...". Here he came to the details of Wilf's disposition of his property.
"To the Stoke Fercroft choir I donate the sum of one thousand pounds to be used as they see fit for the benefit of the choral activity."
Harold Mason looked both surprised and pleased at this generosity.
"To the senior citizens' home at the Old Manor I bequeath the sum of five thousand pounds, which sum to be used solely for the entertainment of the residents, in the form of outings, parties and other celebrations approved by the firm of Evans and Marshall in accordance with my verbal wishes as reported to the partners of the said firm."
The manageress of the old folks' home showed a mixture of pleasure at the sum and displeasure at the directions for its disposal, and the implication that the entertainment of the residents had a back seat in the deliberation of the management.
"The residue of my savings in whatever financial instruments they may be found are to be divided equally between my daughter, Angela Walter, and my son, Robert Thackeray, or their heirs in the event of the prior death of either or both beneficiaries."
Here Mr Evans paused and looked up.
"Here is the list of Wilfred's financial instruments," he said. "They totalled at last Thursday's rate a little over eighty thousand pounds, so that you will each inherit around forty thousand pounds."
He handed over a sheet of paper each to Angela and Robert and returned to the Will.
"As to my property, the building known as 3 Main Street, Stoke Fercroft, I bequeath any of my furniture or fittings therein to Patricia Trevor of that address. In addition I bequeath one tenth of its value at the date of my death for every year or part year of my residence there after my return from the Old Manor senior citizens' home, up to a maximum of one hundred per cent, to the said Patricia Trevor. The residual value of the property is to be divided equally between my daughter and son as with the instructions for the distribution of my financial instruments above and Patricia Trevor has first right to buy the shares of the other beneficiaries at the valuation so determined."
The last part of Mr Evans' words were drowned by the sharp intake of breath by Angela and a more voluble protest from Robert.
"What the hell! Why does she get anything for the house?" shouted Robert, then turning to Patty he went on. "Did you know anything about this? Have you been sucking up to my dad to get something for yourself?"
Patty herself was too surprised by the bequest to even begin to defend herself. She had had no idea of why she was there, and after the first two bequests to the choir and the old folks' home, perhaps expected to receive a thousand pounds or so for herself which she thought quite excessive and, though kind of old Wilf, totally unnecessary. When she had heard about the bequest of his furniture and fittings, she had thought that her share in his Will was over. She merely stared at Robert's outburst without seeing him, and it was left to Mr Evans to quieten Robert's anger.
"There are a few technical details about how the property is to be valued in a separate document," he said. "I have had that valuation done in accordance with the terms, and it amounts to a little over one hundred thousand pounds. I have here a letter from your late father to you and your sister," he went on, and gave each of them an envelope. "In it he explains the reason for this bequest. I also have a letter for you, Miss Trevor," he added, turning to Patty and handing her an envelope.
Patty stared at the envelope in her hand, still dazed by the generosity of the old man. Robert ripped open his letter and began to read, and Angela, after looking at him for a moment, carefully slit open her own letter and she, too, began to read. Slowly Patty came back to her senses, and she opened her envelope and took out the letter, handwritten in an old-fashioned style of handwriting.
Don't be upset by the fact that you have got some part of my property. I know you well enough to know that you will think you don't deserve it, or anything from me, for that matter. But I think you do.
I don't know how much you will get, because I don't know how many years will pass before I die, but I know that you will continue to make a home for me until that happens. You will continue to let me work in the garden, and watch telly with you in the evenings, or just read a book and have a bite of supper together. So see this gift as my way of saying thank you for the way you have made me a part of your family.
I've seen at first hand how you run your business. Naturally you want a profit, or you'd have to close down, but you treat your staff well, pay them good wages, are generous with time off for personal problems and so on. You could probably make a much bigger profit if you treated them like most companies treat their staff. So count this, if you like, as my way of giving you a bit more profit on your business.
And I know you've settled in well in my family's house, and the old smithy serves you well as your bakery. The old place has got a new lease of life since you persuaded me to let you rent it. Once again, just as it was when it was a smithy, it's an important part of the life of the village. In one sense it is more a part of village life now, because when it was a smithy, it was more the businesses of the village who came there, but now it is everybody who wants a cup of tea and a bun or a meal that someone else has made, and a bit of peace and quiet.
So when I'm gone, you won't have to find as much money to be able to buy out my son and daughter, and I hope you'll be able to keep your business there, and make it grow. They've already left the village, not just moved away, but they've completely lost touch with the place where they grew up.
So enjoy your house, Patty, and help keep Stoke Fercroft as a living village and a happy place for so many people who want to keep it as their home.
Long before she had reached the end of this letter the tears were streaming down Patty's face, splashing on the paper she was holding, so that the last few words were beginning to run. She looked up at the others. Mr Evans was holding a paper handkerchief out to her, which she took gratefully. Angela was folding up her letter. She looked serene, as though she had accepted her father's decision. Robert clearly had not.
"I'm going to challenge this," he said.
"Of course you have that right," said Mr Evans. "But before you do, I hope you will listen to me. I discussed this somewhat unusual bequest of Wilfred's with several colleagues before putting it in just these terms. Their general opinion was that, though unusual, as I said, it was perfectly valid. A challenge would not succeed, but could eat up a good deal of your forty thousand pounds bequest plus your share of the value of the property."
"Don't do it, Robert," said Angela. "I don't know whether you had an identical letter to the one I have, but Dad's explained himself very well. I live in Canada, you live in London. I don't know how often you've come to visit, but I don't think it's much. Patty has been his family during his last years. As for me, I think I'm grateful to her for taking on that job, not knowing in advance anything about how taxing it might be or how long she might have to do it. He could have lingered for years, been a burden, but he went quickly and quietly, and, as far as we know, painlessly. I think Patty would have heard if he'd been in pain, living in the same house. Let it go and be grateful, you too."
Patty could see that Robert was not appeased.
"How much of our house does she get?" he asked, turning to Mr Evans.
"Four years and a part of the fifth have passed since Wilfred moved back to live with Patty. So she inherits a half - fifty percent - and you and Angela inherit a quarter each. Your inheritance and Angela's will each increase by a little over twenty-five thousand pounds, and Patty has first right to buy you out at that price."
"So I can buy the property for fifty something thousand pounds?" asked Patty.
She remembered the sum which Richard Mason had said would be her upper limit if she were to buy the property. It had been more than double that sum.
Robert stood up.
"What are you going to do, Robert," asked Angela.
"We'll see," he answered grimly. "I'm going to take advice," and he left the room. Mr Evans tried to stop him on the grounds that there would be papers to sign, but Robert shook him off and left the building.
"Never mind," said Mr Evans. "I can motor out to Stoke Fercroft and have him sign the papers there. I'd booked the whole of the rest of today to this business anyway."
He turned to the others and led them through the documentation necessary for the release of their bequests, after which Patty offered Angela a lift back to the house. Almost to her surprise Angela accepted, and they made the journey mostly in silence, but without any feeling on Patty's side that Angela bore her a grudge.
When they returned to Stoke Fercroft the young lady behind the counter told them that Robert had appeared some half an hour earlier with, as she put it, a face that would turn milk sour, had persuaded the entire family to pack their bags, and left to go to the inn for their last night in the village.
When they heard the details of the Will, both Richard Mason and Algernon Pelham were surprised, but glad for their client's sake. Richard assisted her in obtaining a mortgage from the bank, and at Algy's advice she deposited the sum in two separate accounts, payable to Angela and Robert when they had agreed the terms of the Will. As Algy pointed out, Patty could not reasonably pay Angela, who had signed her agreement immediately, until Robert had accepted also, since, if he instituted proceedings, the outcome would affect both himself and his sister.
It took Robert a couple of months before he finally accepted the situation, having discovered from his alternative advisor that the Will was cast iron and that, as Mr Evans had intimated, it would cost more than it could benefit him to challenge.
Patty was now working alone in the garden, and the first few times she did so, she wept a few tears for the friend and fellow-gardener whom she had lost.
Naturally word leaked out in the village about the bequest to Patty, although she herself was silent about it, and although the contents of her letter were never made public, most sensible people could guess at a reasonable explanation of Wilf's actions, and not even the most envious of village residents could criticise his gift to the young woman who had become like a daughter to him in his last days.