Sunday, April 22, 2012
Just a few days before the official start of autumn, the handsome stranger arrived in Camden Corners on the 10:40. He didn't really pick Camden Corners, it picked him since his funds were limited and he didn't want to spend what little money he had on a ticket that would take him any farther west.
As he hopped off the train, he wondered what he had gotten himself into. This was really a small town. The first thing he had to do was choose a name for himself. He didn't want anyone to know his identity. Charlie had a friendly ring to it. The fellow he met on the train told him he was traveling to Brentwood. Charlie Brent. That would be his new name. Sounds like an honest type guy.
Charlie spotted O'Sullivan's Pub and made that his first stop. Mack Mackenzie introduced himself to the stranger.
“Will you be settling down in Camden Corners or just passing through?” he asked.
Charlie liked this friendly bartender immediately.
“Looking for work for a few months and then I'll be on my way” replied Charlie. “Know anybody who is hiring”
Not that he had any skills, but it was worth a try.
“I heard, just this morning that Grandpa Wally Wallace is looking for someone to help him clear some land. You might want to pay him a visit. His house is just over the river and through the woods.”
Grandpa Wally wasn't Mack's grandfather. Everyone in town called him Grandpa Wally and his wife was Grandma Bess. Charlie finished his corned beef sandwich and draft. He thanked Mack and was on his way to cross the bridge and find his way through the woods to Grandpa's house.
Mack's mother, Fiona was setting tables getting ready for the lunch crowd when she overheard Mack and the stranger's conversation.
“Maybe you shouldn't have told that fellow where Grandpa Wally lives, Mack. You don't know anything about him. He seemed a little hesitant when he gave you his name, like it was something he had just thought up.”
“Oh, Ma, he had an honest face. He's from New York City and I don't mean from the seedy part of town. He has class.”
“Did he tell you this son?”
“No, I just know it from living there for a while. I'm sure it will be OK.”
Fiona could see the flicker of doubt in her son's eye and wasn't surprised when he called his father in to help with the lunch crowd. Mack decided to take a little walk to Grandpa Wally's just to make sure Charlie found his way without a hitch.
Wally and Bess were delighted to meet this charming stranger. Wally was getting up in years and the farm was taking more and more out of him. Wally knew there had to be more to Charlie than he was telling but he had a good feeling about him. Duke, his old bloodhound, took a liking to him too and Wally had faith in Duke's judgment.
Charlie was a muscular fellow but it was apparent he had never done much physical labor. He was soft but that wouldn't last too long with the work he would be doing in the fields. The two shook hands and Charlie was ready to go to work right then and there. At that moment, Mack appeared saying he wanted to make sure Charlie didn't have any trouble finding Grandpa Wally's farm. Charlie saw through the excuse but was touched that Mack was concerned enough about the old man to leave the pub during such a busy time of day just to make sure everything was as it should be.
Camden Corners might be a hick town but he was beginning to like it very much. Grandma Bess was happy Wally would have some much needed help and was busy washing blankets for the bunk in the barn. Charlie wouldn't have to worry about sleeping arrangements and he could already smell a ham baking in the oven. Yes, he was going to like Camden Corners that was for sure. By the end of the first day Charlie was so sore he could barely move his legs enough to climb into the comfortable bunk. Wally chuckled at the way Charlie tried to hide his pain. He was curious about the boy but knew he wasn't going to learn his story until Charlie was ready to tell it.
Charlie had been working for almost three days when he noticed Grandma Bess had company as the men walked toward the house for lunch. Grandma Bess introduced Charlie to their granddaughter, Betsy. Betsy was a beauty with fiery red hair and the greenest eyes Charlie had ever seen. Wally and Bess smiled broadly as the two youngsters nodded hello.
Betsy worried about her grandparents. They worked way too hard and now she wondered if maybe they trusted too much. Who was this good looking stranger? He didn't look like a farmhand to her. More like a man of the world. She asked Charlie how long he was planning to be in town but Wally stopped her questioning.
“Leave the young fellow alone, Betsy. He's been working up an appetite all morning and he doesn't need you prying into his business.”
Betsy, would let it go for now but she was not going to let Charlie off the hook that easily. Look at those hands, they were a little scratched up and sunburned but they certainly hadn't had a lifetime of hard work like any farmhand she had ever seen.
Charlie was enjoying every meal he had with Wally and Bess. Bess made the most wonderful tasting dishes. Charlie was afraid he was eating them out of house and home but Bess kept piling food on his plate. They laughed and joked and all had a good time.
Betsy was certainly a beauty. Charlie knew he shouldn't be interested in her but he was in spite of himself. Betsy, still curious about Charlie found him to be a fascinating conversationalist and very easy on the eyes. Yes, there was more to this fellow than he was letting on and she would get to the bottom of it. Charlie mentioned meeting Mack Mackenzie.
Betsy stopped by the pub on her way home to find out what Mack knew about the stranger who seemed to be an important part of her grandparent's life now. Mack told Betsy he was sure Charlie was from an upscale part of New York City. He was a bit leery of him too and worried about Wally and Bess. Betsy's next stop was the library where she searched the New York papers for the last few months. Betsy's heart sank when she saw a picture of Charlie and a very sophisticated beauty. The caption read:
Mr. & Mrs. Charleton Granholm Wentworth, III announce the engagement of their son, Charleton Granholm Wentworth, IV to Miss Phoebe Evandale Samuelson, daughter of the Honorable Herbert Jamison Samuelson and Mrs Carolyn Clement Samuelson of Washington, D.C.
Charlie wasn't smiling in the picture. He looked stiff and totally miserable. Miss Phoebe looked as though she was whiffing a very unpleasant odor. Betsy chuckled to herself when she wondered if Miss Phoebe's nose filled with water when it rained since it was pointed so far upward toward the sky.
Betsy was sorry she went snooping. She didn't like to think of Charlie being with that horrible snob. She had to admit to herself that she was jealous of this girl. Before Betsy left the library she confided in her friend Sarah Harcourt.
Sarah had heard the Wallaces had a stranger working for them and decided it was high time she and Max introduced themselves to the newcomer. Max was an author and could size people up in a hurry. He also had many contacts in New York and Washington and maybe he could find out some information about this mysterious stranger who looked just like the rich, spoiled New Yorker whose photo was in the newspaper.
Betsy and Sarah made plans to meet when school let out that day and Annie Mackenzie could take over Sarah's duties in the library for the afternoon. They stopped by Sarah's home on the way to the farm and Max joined their little adventure. Max loved a mystery and was working on a new one of his own.
Grandma Bess was delighted to see Betsy again and gave Sarah and Max big hugs. Nobody could fool the old woman, she knew exactly why they were here.
“Did you find any information at the library Betsy?” she asked with a sly smile on her face.
“Grandma, how did you know I went to the library” said Betsy as her face began turning a pretty shade of red.
“I know my granddaughter and you weren't going to let the Charlie matter go. Besides, if you hadn't found something in the New York papers, you and Sarah wouldn't be here now and you certainly wouldn't have torn Max away from his writing just for a friendly visit.”
Max laughed. He loved this old woman. Her body might be giving out a bit each year but her mind was as sharp as it had ever been. He never knew anyone who could pull the wool over her eyes or Wally's for that matter. He wasn't worried about the stranger because he trusted their instincts but he was curious and was determined to see if Charlie was really Mr. Charleton Granholm Wentworth, IV. Max had met Chip Wentworth as he was called. He didn't know him well but did remember talking to him at a gathering one time. He was very interested in Max's writing and wondered how he had gotten started in the business.
The foursome walked out into the backyard. They could see Wally and Charlie in the distance. They were using a two man saw on one of the dying birch trees out by the woods. Suddenly a gust of wind came up. Bess saw the tree start to sway and yelled Wally's name. Charlie heard her at that moment and pushed Wally down on the ground shielding his body with his own. Max and the girls ran as fast as they could to the pair. Bess was on her knees in prayer. Wally had the wind knocked out of him but was able to stand up and wave to Bess. Charlie was trapped under the tree and lay unconscious.
The four of them were able to lift the tree off Charlie but didn't dare move him. Betsy sat with him while Sarah walked Wally back to the house and Max ran to get one of Wally's horses to ride into town for the doctor. Doc Tom grabbed his medical bag and rode back to the farm with Max while Doc McMillan gathered the back brace and readied his buckboard for the trip. Doc Julie stayed behind to tend to a waiting room full of patients.
Doc Tom could tell right away that the stranger was seriously injured. He didn't appear to have any broken bones but there was deep gash on his forehead and no signs of consciousness. Doc did his best to patch up the head wound while he waited for his father-in-law to arrive with the back brace and buckboard. They knew it was dangerous to move the patient but they needed to get him away from the woods. The three men very carefully lifted Charlie and slowly carried him into the farmhouse where Grandma Bess had just placed fresh sheets and blankets on the bed just across from the kitchen. The doctors knew Charlie's condition was serious. They told his anxious friends that he may come out of the coma within a day or two or he could remain unconscious indefinitely.
Max couldn't be certain but he did believe Charlie Brent was same fellow he knew as Chip Wentworth. They shared their information with Wally and Bess. Wally was not pleased that Sarah went snooping into Charlie's personal business but even he had to agree it would be best to contact Charlie's parents.
Max rode into town that evening and sent a telegram to Mr. Wentworth. Betsy stayed by Charlie's bedside for the next three days. Wally and Bess watched over him hoping and praying he would open his eyes.
The 10:40 pulled into the train station on schedule. Mr. and Mrs. Charleton Granholm Wentworth, III exited the train with Miss Phoebe trailing behind.
“Why did that little twit have to come along?” Charleton grumbled to his wife.
Phoebe was covering her nose and mouth as though she was afraid to breathe in the fumes of fresh air. Max met them at the station and gave them a ride to the farmhouse to visit their son.
Charleton entered the small bedroom and was shocked to see the condition of his son. To his surprise, his eyes filled and his hand shook as he touched his son's cheek. He remembered that horrible day when the two quarreled. He had said some terrible things to Chip. He told him he was ashamed to call him his son. A son he had trained to take over in the financial world and all the boy wanted to do was write stories and live in a fantasy world. What kind of a man was that? Chip was furious with his father because he had announced his son's engagement to that driveling half-wit Phoebe Samuelson. Marry the girl? He couldn't stand to be in the same room with her. Her father was extremely influential and Charlton wanted the connection. He couldn't understand why his son wouldn't jump at the chance. He didn't have to love her, just have a couple of children with her and then he could bed whomever he wanted for the rest of his days. Chip turned on his heel and walked out the door. That was the last Charlton had seen his son until this moment when he looked to be on death's door.
Phoebe burst into the room and swooned as Max caught her before she hit the ground. She cried uncontrollably until Bess guided her out of the room and sat her on the sofa telling her to get a hold of herself. The tears stopped immediately once her audience had disappeared.
Charleton looked around and saw so many kind faces of those who cared about his son. Doc McMillan explained the situation to him. His first instinct was to call in every specialist in New York and Washington but he sensed that everything was being done for his son right here in the small town of Camden Corners.
Charlie's mother, Daphne, was sitting quietly next to her son's bedside. She was observing the young girl named Betsy. Her instincts told her Betsy's feelings were stronger than a simple friendship with her son. She knew he would never marry Phoebe and she didn't blame him. Unlike his father, Chip was not a shallow man. Charleton had married Daphne so many years ago, not because he loved her but because her father was an influential man. Daphne wasn't unhappy with the arrangement but she wanted more than a marriage of convenience for her son.
Charleton could take Miss Phoebe no longer and arranged for her transportation to the train station and sent her on her way. This was the least he could do for his son. He didn't want that insipid girl's face to be the first thing Chip saw when he woke up. Charlie was aware of voices in the background. His head was very sore and it was difficult to open his eyes but he wanted to know what all the commotion was about. He slowly opened his eyes and looked into the smiling face of Betsy Wallace. Doc McMillan was also smiling and hovering over him welcoming him back from his long rest. He suddenly remembered the tree falling down on Wally. He called Wally's name and when he saw the old man who's cheeks were wet with tears, he knew everything would be alright. It didn't take long before Charlie was feeling as good as new. His head was healing nicely and he was thankful for the new friends he had in Camden Corners.
Charlie and his father had a long talk. Charleton came to the realization with the help of Daphne that his son was his own man. Writing was a noble profession. Just look at William Shakespeare. Charlton also realized that Daphne was a pretty special woman and maybe his marriage meant more to him than just convenience. Charlton and Daphne bid goodbye to the good folks of Camden Corners with the promise of a return trip very soon. How about a Thanksgiving wedding Charleton shouted as he hopped on the train. Charlie and Betsy just smiled as Charlie squeezed Betsy's hand.