|The late David Roberts, my brother-in-law, painted this water-colour of a|
creperie in Locronan, Brittany, where we had lunch one summer day.
We chose it from among the pictures he left after his death.
The coffin containing the mortal remains of Gertrude Gillespie, (1920-2013. R.I.P.) disappeared behind the crematorium curtain, and the congregation filed out behind the grieving family.
Outside, I exchanged condolences with other mourners, while edging my way towards Julia, Gertrude’s great niece, and reaching her, gently squeezed her arm.
“My sympathies, my dear,” my voice betrayed emotion. “I’m Peter Wallace. Your aunt greatly influenced my life for the better when I was a young man .”
“You must be one of Aunty’s good works,” said Julia, smiling weepily. “She was always famous for helping young people.”
“I’ve always been very grateful to her. I feel so guilty that I lost touch over the years.”
“Then it’s so nice that you came to say goodbye. Please join us back at the house afterwards, I‘m sure there‘ll be people that you know.”
The big room was tastefully furnished, with numerous works of art. There was a beautiful finger buffet and red and white wine, and I took a glass of red, loaded my plate and mingled with the mourners, many of whom were exchanging amusing anecdotes about the old lady. I was savouring a spicy chicken drumstick, when a large blonde lady of indistinguishable age, and heavily embellished with rings and golden bracelets, approached me.
“ Lovely house isn’t it?”
“Indeed, and perfectly reflecting dear Gertrude’s excellent artistic taste .”
The blonde lady smiled a twisted smile. “Come off it,” she hissed, “you didn’t know dear Gertrude from Adam, this is the fifth funeral I‘ve seen you at this month. You lie your way in to up-market wakes for the chicken drumsticks and the free booze.”
I‘d been rumbled!. “Please don’t make a scene,” I pleaded, “I’ll leave at once, quietly.”
My accuser smirked, slyly. “Don’t panic, I lie my way in as well. A posh funeral’s the perfect way of spending an afternoon. Always a good free buffet and, if you’re smart, the chance of turning a profit.”
“What do you mean?”
“Follow me,” she said, grinning, and we sauntered casually up the room, examining the late Gertrude's pictures and ornaments as we went. We paused, a few feet from Julia, to admire a beautiful water-colour, my blonde began weeping, gently, and Julia came across to comfort her.
“I loved this picture,” sniffled my companion. “I often admired it when visiting Gertrude. She promised I should have it, one day, but I suppose she forgot. I’m so glad to have seen it, just once more.”
“Oh dear,” said Julia, “this is among the items left to me, I think, but an old friend like you is surely entitled to a little keepsake.”
*I left the house with the picture under one arm and Helga, my new friend, on the other. “We should get at least £200 for this,” she said, “and I noticed the funeral of old Mrs Havelock from The Grange is booked for Thursday. We can do a few quid there as well, if we‘re smart.”
I nodded, happily. It had been a perfect afternoon, and a whole new life lay before me.