Monday, June 11, 2012
Millie and Leland agreed the timing wasn't right for a honeymoon. There was simply too much happening in Camden Corners. Rehearsals for Hannah's Treasure were beginning and almost everyone in town had a hand in the production. Leland was renovating his family home and wanted to be in town in case there were any questions. The antique shops were bustling with new items from Mrs. Harvey's collection.
Millie was worried about her brother too. She knew he was under tremendous strain at home. He had confided in her about Prudence and her drinking. Doctor Grant told him she faces some serious physical problems if she doesn't get professional help for her addiction. Neville blamed himself. If he had only felt love for this woman she wouldn't be in this condition.
“Neville, you may not have loved Prudence but she didn't love you either. I would venture to guess that her problem stems from a father who sold her to the highest bidder. My understanding is that Chadwick Wingate was as mean as the day is long. His wife died of an undisclosed ailment when Prudence was only 15. I wonder now if it may have been a penchant for alcohol.”
“I've heard that too Millicent. After what Doc Grant told me I now know something must be done. I'm sure she sensed that I did not love her and haven't had any desire for her in years.”
“You have been a kind and loving husband and I know Prudence never made your life easy. I know how you feel about keeping your marriage vows but I worry about the safety of the girls. Melanie has Michael but Melissa is young enough to be adversely affected by Prudence's behavior. I wish you would consider allowing the girls to stay here in Camden Corners with me.”
“Millicent, you are a newlywed and you already have a full house. I couldn't ask you to look after my daughters too.”
“We haven't even begun to fill up all the rooms on the second floor of this house. Leland and I will be together enough. We aren't teenagers, you know.” The color rose in Millie's face as she spoke those words.
Neville chuckled. “Maybe it would be a good idea. At least until Prudence accepts help with her problem. I don't like taking the girls away from her but I wonder if she would even notice. She is so filled with hate for me I don't think she can think about anyone else right now. Let me talk to them and see how they feel.”
Neville couldn't believe how relieved both girls were. Michael had been offered a job working with James and was reluctant to take it because Melanie wanted to stay in Greensboro to protect her sister. Melissa was relieved she wouldn't have to go back into that house. It seems one of her mother's flying objects hit Melissa on the shoulder. She had hidden her bruise from everyone wanting to protect her mother. She was reluctant to enter her mother's room after that.
Neville returned to Greensboro the day after the wedding. He planned to pack the girls' clothes and mail them. He was determined to fix the mess with Prudence. He would demand she get the help she needed or he would leave her. It went against everything he believed in but he did need to put his foot down.
“Where are my children?” Prudence demanded. “You have taken them away from me.”
“Prudence, they are staying in Camden Corners because they want to avoid seeing their mother in this condition. Did you know Melissa was hit by something you threw during a rampage? She hasn't been in your room to see you in over two weeks because she is afraid of you. Did you even miss her?”
“That's a lie. She was here just yesterday. You are forcing her to stay with Millicent. I know that woman hates me.”
Neville left the room and came back with a large container. He started dumping everything Prudence could possibly pick up and throw. She got out of bed and started pounding him on the back. He continued throwing every bottle, hairbrush and lamp into the container. He went through her drawers and found bottles of sherry and whiskey. He picked those up and dumped them into the trash. He turned on his heel and walked out of the room.
Prudence couldn't find anything to throw at the door so she proceeded to scream until she had no voice left.
Neville sat in the parlor, put his head in his hands and wept for the woman he had never loved.
Prudence slept for several hours. When she woke up panic set in. She recalled Neville telling her the girls were with Millicent.
“He and that harlot are not going to take my children from me. She has my husband but I will kill her before I allow her to have my daughters too.”
The household was quiet. It was just after two o'clock in the morning. Prudence silently got out of bed and dressed as warmly as she could. She noticed a bottle of whiskey Neville overlooked when he was acting like a maniac throwing everything away.
“I can't drink any of that now. I have a mission. I will pay a little visit to Neville's mistress. I have to keep my head clear for that. I'll make sure Melissa comes home with me. I don't care what happens to Melinda. She has shamed the family name because of her liaison with that Cassidy boy. The Merryweathers can keep that one.”
Prudence had been an excellent horsewoman before the drink took hold. She knew her way through the back roads and was sure she could make it all the way to Camden Corners. If she remembered correctly, it was a two hour ride by carriage. If she rode her horse hard enough she was sure she could make it in half the time. She quietly went out the back of the house, walked to the stables and saddled King. He was the fastest and strongest horse Neville owned.
She rode fast and hard until she came to Camden Corners. Her mind was whirling. There was no mistaking the house on the hill. The largest one in town. The house that should have been hers. She was determined to claim it.
King stopped at the lake and drank the cold water. Prudence was thirsty herself but preferred something other than water. She guided King up the hill. The house was dark. She walked to the back door. It was locked but Prudence remembered there was always a key under the rock in the garden. She found it and unlocked the door. The stairs creaked but she didn't hear anyone stirring in the living quarters. She finally made it to the top of the stairs. She walked into the parlor and felt her way to the first bedroom. Suddenly she felt an arm around her neck and shoulders. A light snapped on and she saw the face of a young man who looked exactly like Neville.
“So we finally meet James. You look just like your no good father.”
The noise awoke the entire household. Millie was the first to speak.
“Prudence, what are you doing here? Does Neville know where you are? How did you get here?”
“So many questions Millicent. Which one of these fools married the old hag?”
Harvey stepped forward. “It's obvious you are upset Mrs. Merryweather so I will ignore that ill-mannered remark. However, I would not repeat those words in my presence.”
This man was intimidating. Prudence decided she had better be on her best behavior. “I don't want to interfere with your night of sleep. I simply want to speak with the tramp who has stolen my husband.” She looked up and saw a very attractive woman staring at her in disbelief.
“I believe you are referring to me Mrs. Merryweather. I am Helene Robinson. I assure you your husband has remained loyal to you. Our only connection is our son who was born before you and Neville were married.”
“Mother!” Melinda entered the room followed by Melissa. “What on earth are you doing here? Where is father? What have you done to him?”
“I have done nothing to your precious father. He was asleep when I left. I have come to collect your sister. You are welcome to stay in this commune. Have you people no shame. Flaunting your illicit relationships all over town. Melissa, you are coming home with me where you belong.”
“No Mother. I will not go with you now or at any time in the future if you don't stop drinking. You have hurt everyone in this family with your behavior.”
Melanie held her sister close. She hadn't realized how much the young girl had suffered in silence for quite some time.
“Mother. Just leave. I'm sure Leo will take you to the train station to wait for the first train going to Greensboro.”
“That's it. That's all you girls have to say to your mother after all I have given up for you. I use to have a beautiful figure envied by every young girl in Greensboro. Your father insisted on having children and now look at me.”
“Mother if you feel better blaming Melissa and me for your ruined figure and life go right ahead. The next time you take one of your many drinks just think what that is doing to your whole body. Mother you look like a woman twice your age because you won't stop drinking.”
Prudence picked up a vase and threw it at her daughter hitting her on the side of the head and causing a gaping wound. Everyone rushed to Melinda's side. James reached out his arms to hold Prudence back and she picked up a glass figurine and hit him with all her might. James fell back and Prudence ran down the stairs and out the door. King was still standing although it would be obvious to most people that he was suffering. King had not been cooled down before he drank out of the lake and was suffering from colic. Prudence paid no attention, mounted the horse and used the whip on him. King reared up and an unsteady Prudence was thrown off his back hitting her head on the ground. The last thing she saw before she closed her eyes was James Robinson looking down at her. Millie and Addie came running with blankets to keep her warm while James ran down the hill to Doc's house. Helene was comforting Melinda and Melissa.
“Oh Helene, I know something terrible has happened to Mother. We were all so mean to her. I know she doesn't love me but I do love her,” Melissa cried in Helene's arms.
“Darling Melissa. I am sure your mother loves you very much. She is unhappy and said some hurtful things. I know she didn't mean them. How could anyone who knows you not love you. A mother always loves her children more than anything else in the world.” Helene hoped what she was saying was true in Prudence's case. She had her doubts but she was not going to let these girls think their mother didn't love them.
Doc made the trek up the hill on foot. He had his medical bag but it would do no good. Prudence Wingate Merryweather was dead.
“I'm very sorry for your loss Millicent. I am required by law to call Sheriff Mendenhall. I asked James to go to his home and bring him back up here. Millicent, he will need to know exactly what happened.”
“I understand Doc. I wonder if you would take a look at Melanie, I'm afraid she has a gash in her head. I wish Neville was here to tell the girls about their mother. Will you help me, Doc?”
“Of course, Millie. Let's go tell them now. I'll check out Melanie too. Do I need to call Oscar before the sheriff gets here?”
“No Doc, Prudence did this to herself. I suspect she has the remains of alcohol in her system. She has been drinking heavily of late.”
James and the sheriff arrived on the scene along with Deputy Arnie Pfeiff. They lifted Prudence onto the buckboard covering her body with a tarp. James felt sick to his stomach as he watched the men pick up the lifeless body. He felt nothing but sadness for this woman who had spent so many years with his father.
The sheriff entered the house just as Millie was telling the girls their mother had died. They cried and reassured each other that their mother would be happier now.
“Deputy Pfeiff will telephone the Greensboro sheriff when he returns to the office. The sheriff will inform Neville of his wife's death. Doc have you determined the cause of death?”
“Yes Sheriff. I believe Mrs. Merryweather fell from her horse and struck her head. I believe she died instantly or shortly thereafter. From what I can tell, the horse was suffering from colic. My guess would be he drank from the lake before he had a chance to cool down after a long ride from Greensboro. My determination is that Mrs. Merryweather suffered an accidental death.”
“Who discovered the body?”
“I did sir. Mrs. Merryweather looked at me and then closed her eyes. I couldn't feel a pulse.”
“I know you are all upset, I apologize but I do need to determine what transpired here this evening. Mrs. Harvey, may I start with you?”
“Of course, Sheriff.” It was the first time Millie heard her new married name and in spite of the circumstances, she was pleased with the sound of it. Millie told the sheriff everything she could recall including the attack on Melanie and James.
“I believe we are finished here, I am very sorry for your loss. Good evening everyone.”
The housekeeper was in the kitchen preparing breakfast for Neville when there was a knock on the door.
Neville opened the door. “Hello Sheriff, what can I do for you this morning?”
“It's about Mrs. Merryweather sir.”
“My wife is still in bed this morning Sheriff. What is this all about?”
“Are you quite sure she is in bed? I'm sorry to inform you we received a report that she was found dead in Camden Corners.”
Neville's mouth flew open. He ran up the stairs two and three at a time. He opened the door to Prudence's room and saw the empty bed.
He ran back down the stairs. “What was she doing in Camden Corners? She was in bed asleep when I retired last evening? I don't understand any of this.”
“I'm sorry sir, I don't have any of the details. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“No thank you Sheriff. I will have to make arrangements to go to Camden Corners as soon as possible. I don't understand how she made the trip last night.”
“Apparently she fell from a horse.”
Neville ran to the stables and discovered King was missing.
Everything was starting to fall into place. Prudence must have been going to Camden Corners to take the girls back. He informed the household staff that their mistress had died accidentally. He noticed they all sympathized but not one of them shed a tear. He didn't blame them but he did feel sad for Prudence. He needed to get to his girls as quickly as possible. He packed a few things and went immediately to the train station. He boarded the train 30 minutes later. He sat in the dining car and remembered just two days ago making this trip with his girls. They were excited about Aunt Millie getting married. Everyone was laughing and having a good time. What a difference a couple of days made.