“Of course they’ll sell it to me! You know me Jack, I can be very persuasive!”
And with that, fat corpulent Gordon Parker leered and rubbed his finger and thumb together to indicate money.
“You don’t even know who lives in that old cottage—”
“—Makes no odds mate, I’ll give them an offer they can’t refuse. I need that land to expand the Bottomley Estate. And I’ll get it, mark my words, pay them over the odds if I have to.”
I’ve known Gordon Parker since school. He’s a highly successful property developer, and he wanted me to hear about the latest chapter in the Parkers’ expanding empire, that I had no doubt he’d succeed with, just as he’s succeeded with every enterprise he’s ever started.
A couple of days later I encountered him in the tiny supermarket in the village. He was smiling expansively as usual, but he seemed different somehow, there was a light of happiness in his usually cold grey eyes.
“The owner of that cottage is a lady called Delvis Treadaway,” he told me. “And, quite frankly she is wonderful.”
“Gordon, you’re a married man, surely—”
“—Gracious, no I don’t mean that I fancy her, it’s nothing like that,” he assured me. “Honestly Jack, if you only knew! She’s made me see things in a totally different way.”
“She sold you the cottage?”
“Oh no. She flat out refused. Told me I should be ashamed of myself. That I should be building affordable housing for people on low wages rather than making luxury homes for the rich. Do you know how many homeless people there are in town? And we urgently need more food banks. Delvis took me to a shelter for the down-and-out, and honestly Jack, it blew me away. Delvis is so sweet, and so kind, and she is so right about everything. You know me Jack, no halfway measures. I went straight round to the other homeless shelters and took a look for myself! Do you know that there are people working there as volunteers who’ve got bugger-all themselves, and they just use all their time to help others? And all of them are happier than I am. All of them!”
It was hard to get used to this new philanthropic Gordon.
“Look, here’s a picture of Delvis.” He showed me her photo on his phone. She wasn’t a beautiful woman by any means, around 40, with a pleasant homely face. But there was something about the kindness of her smile that you couldn’t forget.
“You see Jack? I took one look at her face and knew she was right. She told me about how even Bill Gates has seen the light: the richest man in the world, and he’s funding vaccination programmes in Africa and all kinds of other initiatives. Delvis told me that the whole point of being rich has to be to use your wealth to help others. I’m building a block of low cost flats for people on housing benefit, and opening a shelter for destitute youngsters. Did you know that people with mental health issues can’t get the help they need? I’m having a word with some mates on the council about funding some schemes…”
It was a month later that I bumped into Robin Gargle, our local vicar, in the pub.
“I could do with this,” he said, sitting down and taking a long pull at his pint. “Just done a funeral, all that hand shaking and eulogising takes it out of you.”
“Anyone I know?” I asked.
“Delvis Treadaway – the lady who lived in that cottage in the woods.”
It was an awful shock especially as in Gordon’s photo she looked relatively young and healthy.
“I’ve only met her a few times,” Robin went on. “But my predecessor told me she was one of those people who spend their lives helping good causes. And, frankly Jack, I’m not really sad for her,” he wiped beer foam from his upper lip. “Judging by the love of all those folk at the funeral, and the things I gather she’s done in her life, if anyone has earned the right to a place in paradise it’s Delvis.”
“But it’s so sad.” I thought again of Gordon’s phone image of the relatively young woman. “What did she die of?”
“Natural causes I suppose. After all, she got her telegram from the Queen for her hundredth birthday three years ago, she was bed-ridden, and she’s been unable to speak for the past year. I used to pop round and sit with her now and again.”
“Someone told me she was supposed to have been a ‘white’ witch when she was younger – load of nonsense of course. Another pint, Jack?”