Saturday, March 31, 2012
We Meet Again
Helene Robinson understood why her son wanted to get to know his father and half sisters. She didn't blame him, she was too busy chastising herself for keeping this secret from him all these years. Chester had been right all along. James needed to know the truth. Helene couldn't face having him know of her behavior so many years ago. He didn't seem to think twice that his mother behaved like a harlot. Thinking back on the night James was conceived, she realized over indulgence in champagne was only an excuse. What happened with Neville Merryweather was not an accident, it was intentional.
“Maybe it's time you forgave yourself, Helene.” said her good friend Margaret with whom Helene had confided in several months before. “Chester loved you and married you knowing you were carrying another man's child. He never thought any less of you because of one mistake. You gave him the greatest gift of all. A child who adored him.”
“Maybe you're right, Margaret. I just can't help thinking I'm being punished because James seems to be happy living in Camden Corners and being with his other family. His last letter said he had been hired at a local photographic factory. It sounds like he is planning a very long visit there.”
“He also asked you to come to visit him. His Aunt Millie even sent you a note asking you to join your son. What in the world is keeping you here? I've already told you I'd keep an eye on your house and water your plants. Could it be you are afraid to see Neville Merryweather again?”
“You know me so well, Margaret. I know I'm older and wiser than I was 20 years ago but what if I fall into that same old trap? He's a married man. From what James has hinted it isn't a happy marriage but that might make it even more difficult to keep my emotions in check.”
“What if he is bald with warts all over his face and weighs 300 pounds? Maybe you are worrying for nothing.” Margaret laughed.
“You're right, Margaret. He can't be as beautiful as he was back when I knew him. I probably will laugh when I see that overweight, bald headed, wart faced man again.”
Before Helene could change her mind she went to the telegraph office and telegraphed her son. She also sent a telegram to Millie Stout thanking her for her invitation to be her guest. She wouldn't dream of imposing on Mrs. Stout and would ask her son to arrange for lodging in a local boarding house.
When the telegrams arrived, Millie told her nephew not to even think about arranging for his mother to stay at Mrs. Wharton's. She wouldn't hear of it.
“We have lovely rooms in this house and I want to get to know the only woman who ever made my brother happy. As far as I'm concerned she is much more a part of this family than that insipid Prudence.”
“I'm happy you feel that way Aunt Millie because I know you two will be great friends. My mother will love this old house and all the antiques. She and my....ah Chester liked to visit estate sales and such before he became so ill.”
“James, I want you to feel comfortable calling Chester Robinson your father. He was your father in every sense of the word. Neville understands that too and we are both grateful to him for the part he had in making you the fine young man you are today.”
“Thanks Aunt Millie” James said as he gave his aunt a big bear hug.
One week later, Helene Robinson walked off the train and into the arms of her son. Waiting with him was an attractive older lady with a happy grin on her face.
“Welcome to Camden Corners, Helene. I am so happy to meet you.”
The two women embraced as if they'd known each other all their lives.
“I can't thank you enough for your hospitality toward James. I'm sure his visit was the last thing you expected. I hope we haven't disrupted your life too awfully much.”
“Disrupted my life? Nothing could be further from the truth. Young people fill my parlor with laughter every day of the week. Even my nieces are happy to visit their old Aunt Millie more often these days. James has brought nothing but joy to that old house on the hill. Which reminds me, I won't hear of you staying anywhere but in my home.”
Helene appreciated why James was happy in Camden Corners. It was such a picturesque town. People walking down the street shouted hello to them as their carriage rode by on their way to the house on the hill. Helene couldn't believe Neville had grown up in this mansion. She knew he came from wealth but had no idea how rich his family was.
“Don't let this big house fool you Helene, I was in hock up to my cheekbones until Nettie Crowley gave me the idea of opening the antique shop on the first floor. You'll meet Nettie soon. I thought it would be nice if the two of us became acquainted before I shared you with the rest of Camden Corners.”
Addie had prepared a nice supper for the guest. She and Leo thought the two women should be left alone to talk and made the excuse they were visiting the Pringles for the evening.
Helene felt she had known Millie all her life.
“Millie, you have made me feel so welcome. I believe you and Neville share the same charming ways.”
“Yes, Helene, Neville can be very charming. He takes after our father and grandfather in that way and also in other ways. Being accepted into society was a priority for our grandfather, he married our Grandmother for that reason alone. I'm sorry to say, from what I knew of Grandmother Merryweather, she was a rather shallow person herself. She never bothered with Neville and me when we were children and I would guess she was the same with our father. With all his charm, Cyrus Merryweather was a cold man. Neville always craved his approval and even after his death tried to emulate him. It didn't help that he married a superficial woman like Prudence. Neville has mellowed over the years. He hit the roof when Melanie's beau followed her to Camden Corners a year ago. It was only after remembering his lost love that he acquiesced and allowed them to be together. Now he thinks of Michael as his own son.”
“I have to admit Millie, I'm a little worried about meeting Neville again. I think a small part of me has never gotten over my feelings for him. I hope it won't be too awkward for you. I know he visits James occasionally.”
“I know for a fact that Neville still has feelings for you. He has carried that torch for so long. If only he had the gumption to fight Father so many years ago you two would have been married to each other. I know Prudence doesn't deserve loyalty, but I doubt very much he will ever leave her.”
“I don't want him to. I am hoping we can be friends though. For the sake of our son.”
“I'd like that very much” came a voice that Helene would never forget. She turned around and looked into the eyes of the man she had loved since she was a young girl.
“Neville, how nice to see you. I didn't expect we would meet again so soon after my arrival.”
James spoke up. “You can blame me Mother. I knew you and Neville would both be anxious about seeing each other again so I thought it best we get this first meeting over with.”
“You raised a very bright young man here, Helene.” said Neville as he embraced her.
The awkwardness disappeared quickly and Helene and Neville were just two old friends enjoying an evening together with family.
Neville left on the morning train with the promise of returning for a longer visit in just a few days. James had to report to his new job but knew his mother was in good hands with Aunt Millie.
Millie didn't waste anytime. She left Addie in charge of the antique shop and had Leo drive them in the carriage to the Emma and Lily's shop to start their tour of the town. After a delightful morning meeting the residents of Camden Corners, Helene was falling in love with the little town. She was already dreading leaving. She and Millie walked by the Camden Corners Library.
“I studied to be a librarian.” said Helene. “I stopped working when I married Chester. I've been thinking of seeing if they need any help in our local library.”
Millie's ears perked up. “Sarah Harcourt is the head librarian here. She has become a writer and she and Max are expecting a baby. I know she has been talking about giving up her job at the library. Why don't we drop in to see her. Maybe the answer to her dilemma has just come to town.”
“Millie, I couldn't possibly move to Camden Corners. My life is in Albany. I have friends there and obligations.”
“You have family here. Let's just talk to Sarah. There is no harm in that.”
An hour later Helene Robinson was the new head librarian at Camden Corners Lending Library. Helene didn't know what hit her. She didn't know if it was her decision or Millie's. Her new friend could be awfully persuasive.
James took some time off from his new job to help his mother pack up their home in Albany. Along with his other good qualities, Chester had provided well for his family. The house had sold quickly. Helene was sorry to leave the home she had lived in since James was a baby but she had a new life to look forward to. She said a tearful goodbye to her friend Margaret who had promised to come for a visit during the summer.
James held his mother's hand as the train pulled away from the station. With tears in her eyes she bid farewell to Albany and all the memories she would carry with her to her new life in Camden Corners.
At that moment in Greensboro, Neville Merryweather was ducking his head to save himself from the perfume bottle that was headed toward his nose.
“I know you are carrying on with that woman. You spend more time in Camden Corners than you do here. What does that harlot have that I don't have.”
“Now Prudence, why don't you just go back to bed. You know I have been faithful to you since the day we were married. I visit Camden Corners to see my son. I would have him come to visit me here if you would just open your heart to him. He is a very nice young man. I think you would like him.”
“Like him? I loathe him. He and his trashy mother. Now get out of here” Prudence shouted as she picked up another bottle off her dresser.
Neville left the room and ran into Melanie.
“Why don't you just leave her Father. You don't deserve to be treated like this. You don't owe Mother anything. I'm sure you could find happiness with Helene and you know how Melinda and I feel about her. Just in the short time we have known her we have grown to love her and you know you still do.”
“I won't leave your mother Melanie. She is my wife and that is all there is to it. Besides, she gave me two beautiful daughters and I will be forever grateful. I'm glad for Helene's friendship but that is all it is or ever will be.”
“Never say never Father.”
As Neville walked down the hallway, he heard another bottle hit his wife's bedroom door. No Melanie, I never will say never. He thought to himself as he looked at his pocket watch. She should be leaving Albany about now. I'd better hurry if I'm going to catch that train to Camden Corners. His step felt lighter as he walked away from his wife's room.