Money Can't Buy Everything

The Cabriolet swept down the drive and with a crunching of gravel came to a halt in front of the marble steps. She had her dream. Married to a rich industrialist, heir to his family's fortune, they were both very much in love – with money. 

 

"Don't marry for money, dear, but marry where money is". 

 

          She had ignored her aunt's advice but soon found life with Roland, preoccupied as he was by money matters, to be a bore. Wave after wave of be-suited gentlemen came for meetings with him in the first floor boardroom. She heard their chatter and gruff laughter as she sat in the gazebo-style lounge below planning her next gala ball. She listened for the chug of well-tuned engines as their cars climbed the driveway at dusk away from the flat-roofed mansion.

 

          Margaret suspected people came to her receptions less out of true friendship than curiosity, eager to view the building's strange architecture. Modernism they called it. A staircase, bounded by black metal rectangles, led from the entrance hall. Margaret shuddered at the sight of it. How like Roland was his staircase! No amount of wheedling about beauty on her part had been able to dissuade him from adding this functional appendage. Goodbye elegance, goodbye Art Nouveau! In self-defence, for evenings like this, she would order festoons of freesias from her favourite florist in Jersey. The delicate scent hung in the air as the flowers hung hiding the dark girders. The building's "saving grace" was the ballroom with its wide window overlooking the river that flowed silently and ceaselessly by.

 

          On gala evenings, vehicle after vehicle deposited gentlemen in dinner jackets and white bow ties who offered gloved hands to equally elegant ladies with fur trimmed coats over ball gowns in the latest Paris fashions. Margaret greeted her guests in the hall, imagining herself a character from "The Great Gatsby", a recent novel by a little known author named Fitzgerald. 

 

"Margaret, dear! 

 

Bella, dear . . . too long! So happy to see you"  

 

          There were "oohs" and "ahs" as her guests, with swish of silk and taffeta, descended the semi-circle of steps into the ballroom. Through the window Roland's yacht, moored at the water's edge, was silhouetted against the red hue of the sun setting over the hills.

 

          Those evenings and the dancing had long since ended. No one was left to attend with all the men involved in the war at home or abroad. Blackout each evening left little possibility for glittering parties. Besides which, rationing made them nearly impossible. Roland, because his factories were making materials vital to the war effort, was busier than ever. Marguerite's boredom was not alleviated by knitting socks, preparing Red Cross parcels or engaging in charitable works. After money, dancing was the love of her life. Without it, she felt only half alive. 

 

          Now, since the war, so many fortunes had changed. Friends never returning from the field and their wives compelled to go out to work. The heart, the joy, had gone out of her dream house. Roland, spent and riddled with arthritis, sat reading the newspaper, checking share prices. Margaret, alone in the ballroom in the twilight, had the growing conviction that it was time to sell up but not to just anybody. When a group toured the property and wanted it for an educational institution, she imagined her bedroom converted into a classroom. She sighed. How are the mighty fallen! 

 

          After Roland's sudden death, she resisted the sale of her dream house to them as best she could but felt she was battling against a Power greater than herself. Maybe money isn't everything after all, she began to think. Even the stringent conditions she made, in the hope that the sale would fall through at the last minute, were met, although, and the thought had given her satisfaction back then, some only just in time.

 

          Occasionally, as she neared her 100th birthday, still in relatively good health, she would walk from her granny flat, fruit of one of her sale conditions, to the chapel. After the brief service, she often talked with the fine young men and women who were studying here. Fine brains they had too, such clear thinking. Could that be because of their field of studies?  

 

          Not long after the arrival of the university, she heard one of the professors giving a lecture on the topic, "The Miraculous and the Mundane". Of course he made liberal use of their preferred text book, the all-time best seller, the Bible. After hearing him, Margaret, from being bitter and bored because her life was so empty of meaning, became a contented and congenial benefactor of the new establishment. Yes, selling to that buyer had been the best decision of her life. She was committed, like those she was now pleased to have living in her house, to Jesus-Christ and His kingdom. Eternity would be far from boring.

© 2017 ELIZABETH JAMES