Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Uncle Shane's Surprise

In the small drawing room of the apartment above The Bloom Quilt Shop, Dahlia and Hyacinth Bloom Hightower were each bubbling over with excitement, they both had strong suspicions that they were expecting. It seemed reasonable that the identical twins would have babies at the same time since they did everything together. Dahlia and Hyacinth had only one falling out in all their days.
The sister's lives revolved around quilts and quilting. If they weren't running their quilt shop or teaching quilting, they were quilting anything from blankets and jackets right down to tea cozies and sachets. They hadn't much time left for themselves and although they were well thought of and admired, the townspeople often referred to them as dowdy spinsters.
That ended the day Mr. Harold Hightower, filling in for Mr. Hennessy with his wagon full of dry goods, stopped by the quilt shop that also served as the residence of the Sisters Bloom. Dahlia took an instant shine to the handsome young Mr. Hightower and with the help of Diana Taylor, a little make up, a pretty hairdo and stylish clothing she borrowed from Diana, she had turned into a swan. Hyacinth was appalled that her sister was flaunting herself and the girls didn't speak for several days. Mr. Hightower, again filling in for his friend, stopped by the quilt shop and this time he did notice Dahlia and was instantly smitten. Hyacinth finally acquiesced and asked Dahlia to help transform her into a beauty too. The twins new found pride in the way they looked on the outside gave them each a boost of self confidence and they were no longer referred to as dowdy spinsters. Harold just happened to have a twin brother himself and it wasn't long before the Bloom twins and the Hightower twins were a family.
The previous year had been the best either of the girls could remember. Howard Hightower adored his new bride, Hyacinth and she was beside herself with love for her husband. Howard and Harold had been doing odd jobs around town but hadn't found anything they liked. They struck up a friendship with Nicola Rossi.
Nicola or Nick as he preferred being called was Rosa Rossi Marino's brother. In Italy the Rossi family owned and operated a large vineyard. Nick had been the only Rossi boy who had taken an interest in growing and producing wine. He loved the feel of dirt between his fingers, the aroma of the growing grapes and especially the process of fermentation. Papa Rossi wanted his son to have the best education possible and sent him to live with his sister so that he could enroll in college as his brother Luigi did several years before. Nick was a smart young man but had little interest in book learning. He loved being in the open air and working the fields. The closest he came to farming was the small garden behind the Marino Trattoria where he planted vegetables and herbs his sister and brother-in-law used in their cooking. He also planted and cared for grapevines that were growing over trellis on either side of the restaurant. Howard and Harold were examining the grapes and Nick explained these were wine grapes. Not especially good for snacking. He commented that the soil in Camden Corners was almost perfect for some varieties of wine grapes. Harold and Howard who had never even considered wine coming from anything but a bottle were impressed with Nick's knowledge and wondered how they would go about acquiring some land and going into the wine business. They laughed at themselves knowing they would never be able to afford such a thing.
Two days later, Both Harold and Howard received registered letters from a law firm in New York City. They had been requested to attend the reading of the Last Will and Testament of Mr. Shane Howard. The brothers had received word a month before that their Uncle Shane had passed away. Uncle Shane was a recluse, if that was possible, in the big city of New York. When their mother was alive she would dress the boys in their Sunday best, pile them on the train to make the long journey to visit their Uncle. He was kind to the boys but he never acted especially happy to see them. As the years went by, they visited Uncle Shane a couple of times a year.
Harold laughed at the thought that the man who lived in a one room flat and appeared to own nothing but a moth eaten sofa and a rickety old table would have wasted the paper it would take to write a will. Howard, who was christened Howard Shane Hightower after his uncle was skeptical too. After talking it over with their wives, they all decided the men would make the trip to New York City. They were sure their uncle had left them a remembrance he had saved from his beloved sister and their dear mother.
The law firm of Brown, Hammer, Brown and Pike sent word a representative of the firm would be meeting the brothers at the train station and escorting them to the law office where the Will was to be read. The men were surprised when none other than Seymour L. Brown, Sr. and his assistant were waiting for them at the station.
Upon arriving at the impressive law office, they were ushered into a huge conference room, seated in the front row and were offered beverages of their choice and plates of hors d'oeuvers.
Harold whispered in his brother's ear “You better close your mouth, you look like the country bumpkin you are.”
Howard noticed his brother's eyes were as big as saucers and commented “That makes two of us.”
Mr. Brown proceeded with the reading.. If Harold's mouth was open before, it was cavernous now. It seems Uncle Shane was a poor man only because he never spent any of his money. He had holdings in numerous companies, land in several states and bank accounts in amounts the Hightower brothers had never imagined. The last statement was directly to Harold and Howard.
To my only remaining relatives, Howard Hightower and Harold Hightower I leave the land I purchased on the advice of my good friend, Mr. Herbert Hennessy. The land is located on the west side of the small village of Camden Corners. Herbert drove his dry goods wagon by that land once a week for 32 years and felt it would be a good investment. The only condition is that they use the land wisely. I also leave them a sum of money that will be disclosed only to them. I hope this money will bring happiness to them and their wives.
On a personal note, I know you boys thought your old uncle was a crackpot but you always treated me with respect and yes, I believe you loved me. After your sainted mother died you continued to come to visit me. I have visited you too.
I watched as you both graduated with honors from the University. As a favor to me the director allowed me to sit in the orchestra pit. I saw you marry the lovely Bloom sisters in a double ceremony. I was disguised as a florist on that day. I have passed through Camden Corners many times. It is a charming town with good people who think the world of the two of you.
I never revealed who I was although I think Oscar Crowley may have been suspicious but he never let on. You may ask why I didn't come forward. Remember, I'm an eccentric old man. I'm set in my ways and have been since I was 18 years old. I have never taken pleasure in spending money, only making it. Now that I am at the end of my journey I realize what a mistake that has been.
I do have one request. The Widow McCoy who lives in the flat next to mine has been extremely kind to me. Her husband was shot and killed on his way home from work two years ago. Mrs. McCoy is raising their young daughter by herself while taking in laundry and cleaning apartments in the building. She was always so kind and took a special interest in this old man. I would like you to invite Mrs. McCoy and her daughter, Cassandra to move to Camden Corners. It may be inappropriate of me to leave her money directly and therefore I am asking that you help them to relocate out of the dangerous apartment they are living in now. Seymour has the address and will be sure you have safe passage. He has already delivered my personal note to Mrs. McCoy and has requested that she be packed and ready to go. I trust you both will follow my directions.
God be with you and your families. Signed: Shane Howard
Howard and Harold were in a state of shock. The money left to them was well into the millions. Mr. Brown arranged for most of the money to be put into a trust for them and their families. They were still in a state of shock when they arrived at the apartment of the Widow McCoy. Lucinda McCoy slowly opened the door after the brothers announced who they were. Even though she was very thin and pale, she was a very pretty woman. The little girl, Cassandra came running from the small alcove that was the kitchen. She was grinning from ear to ear.
“Mama said we might move to the country. I want to see cows and pigs. Are you going to take us there?”
Cassandra was looking at Harold and then glanced behind him at Howard and couldn't believe her eyes. Two men who looked just like each other. Lucinda asked the brothers to sit down on the clean but rather worn sofa.
Lucinda said “Cassandra was in the room when Mr. Brown stopped by with the letter from Mr. Howard. Mr. Brown was the one who mentioned moving to the country and Cassandra hasn't stopped talking about it since. Mr. Brown assured me that Mr. Howard was an honest man and he was doing what he thought best for my daughter. I just don't know. As tempting as it is, I can't just pack up and leave.”
With that there were sounds of commotion and a gun shot out the window. Cassandra didn't even flinch. Harold asked if that happened often.
“Yes. Cassandra doesn't remember when her father was killed from one of those bullets but I do. It makes me shutter whenever I hear it and I hear it often.”
Harold came up with a solution. “Why don't you come back to Camden Corners with us for a visit. Mrs. Watson has a lovely home with very nice rooms to let. We will prepay the rent on this apartment and you can stay in Camden Corners as long as you would like. If you decide to move back to the city you will have a place to come home to.”
Howard knew his brother would never let them move back into this place but he knew Lucinda wouldn't just pack up and leave permanently.
Cassandra was jumping up and down. “Can we Mama, can we go with Mr. Howard and Mr. Harold, please.”
Lucinda couldn't resist her precious daughter's request. “Yes, we will have ourselves a little vacation. Let's pack up all the things we want to take with us. When were you planning to leave Mr. Hightower?”
“We will be leaving by train in the morning but why don't my brother and I help you pack up and you can stay in the hotel we are staying in tonight. It will be much more convenient for getting to the train station in the morning.”
Lucinda was about to decline the offer of a hotel room when gunshots rang out again. She quickly packed their few clothes and some mementos, Cassandra had her doll and a necklace her papa had given her with a little pink heart. She only wore it for special occasions and this was a special occasion so she put it around her neck and Harold helped her with the clasp. He thought to himself how nice it would be to have a little girl to care for.
Back home, Dahlia and Hyacinth were just leaving Doctor Julie McMillan's office where she had confirmed what they both knew. They were both in the family way. They walked cheerfully to the train station.
“Wait until the boys find out our news, they will be so excited” said Dahlia.
Hyacinth piped in “I wonder what Uncle Shane left them. I certainly hope it isn't that dirty old spittoon he had in his living quarters. The poor old man had nothing worthwhile to leave the boys.”
The train pulled into the station Howard and Harold were smiling at their wives as they walked with a pretty young woman and a little girl. Both looked like they were scared to death.
Cassandra saw the twin sisters and started giggling “Does everybody in Camden Corners look like somebody else?”
The sisters laughed as they were being introduced to Cassandra and her mother. Their husbands were full of chatter about the money and land that was left to them. The baby news would have to wait. Dahlia and Hyacinth didn't think their husband's hearts would be able to take another shock just yet.

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