Friday, June 1, 2012
James Robinson sat fidgeting on the sofa in Millicent's parlor. Addie was attempting to occupy him with chatter about the town of Camden Corners. Addie was nervous too. Her friend, Millicent was meeting the train that was carrying Neville Merryweather to meet his son for the very first time. Neville was in for the shock of his life when he received a telegram from his sister informing him his encounter with Helene had resulted in the birth of a child over twenty years ago. Although James would have preferred to join his aunt at the train station, he understood it would be better if the meeting took place in the privacy of the Merryweather home.
Neville hadn't told his family why he was visiting Camden Corners. He didn't know how he was going to tell Prudence that he had another child. He was worried too about the reaction of his daughters. What would they think of their father's behavior. Granted he had never known about the boy. He also was angry that Helene had found it necessary to keep this information from him. He still loved Helene after all these years. She was never far from his mind. He thought back to the time when they met and fell in love.
Neville was sent to Plattsburg University near the beginning of his senior year in college. From the beginning of his first year in Yale, he struggled to pass his classes since he spent most of his time with his fraternity brothers carousing at the local pubs. Neville had inherited the charm of his father and grandfather before him. He was able to persuade his professors to give him the benefit of the the doubt and pass him along each year. He was successful until he met up with Professor Helmut Kline. Professor Kline had his fill of offspring of the rich who sailed through college and were ill prepared to face the real world outside of the hallowed halls of his beloved University. Neville made the mistake of paying one of his classmates to complete an assignment. Professor Kline discovered the deception and Neville was expelled that very day.
It was only through a hefty donation to the university in Plattsburg by Cyrus Merryweather that Neville was allowed to finish his education there. He had only been attending the school for three days when he happened to pass by a small sandwich shop. He realized he had skimped on breakfast and he was feeling quite hungry. He entered the shop and sat at the counter when a lovely young girl handed him a menu. She smiled at him and he smiled back. Later when he thought about their first encounter, he was sure he had fallen in love that very moment.
Helene Simpson was in her third year at Plattsburg. She was studying to be a librarian and had taken a job at the coffee shop to help with the cost of her education. Helene was a good student. She couldn't imagine anyone not giving their best efforts in their studies. Helene was the first in her family to attend college and she knew the sacrifice her parents had made in order for her to further her education.
Helene was like no other girl Neville had ever met. She was a beauty but more than that she seemed to have a head on her shoulders and knew there were more important things in life than the next party or frivolous flirtation. Helene was attracted to Neville but knew he was in a different social class than she was. As improbable as their friendship was it developed until they became inseparable. Helene was a good influence on Neville. He began studying as he had never done before. He graduated with excellent grades that spring.
Neville was anticipating his parents' arrival in Plattsburg for the graduation ceremony and was anxious for them to meet Helene. He had planned to propose to her the night of his graduation. Cyrus Merryweather was appalled that a son of his would even consider marrying below his station.
“Why the girl's father is a shopkeeper. What are you thinking, Neville?”
It had never occurred to Neville that his father wouldn't approve of Helene. She had made him happier than he had ever been since the day he'd met her at the diner.
Helene had misgivings about their relationship. She was well aware of the difference in their upbringing. Her parents were loving, kind people who did their best to provide for their family but were not in the the same league as the Merryweathers. As much as it broke her heart, she told Neville he should return home with his parents and forget about her.
Neville was never the same after he left Plattsburg. He didn't think he would ever forgive himself for running away from the girl he loved.
Several years later his father arranged his marriage to Prudence. He never loved her but it was expected that he would marry and produce sons to carry on the Merryweather name. How ironic, Neville thought as the train pulled into the station, my only son is not carrying the Merryweather name after all.
Neville was surprised to see a sign in front of his old homestead reading open for business. He would have to question Millicent about it but for now he had other things on his mind.
One look at James Robinson and he knew he was indeed his son. He could see himself and his father in the young man's face. He could also see a trace of Helene and his heart ached at the thought of her.
It was an awkward moment. The father and son had no idea what to say to each other. Neville wanted to embrace his boy but was afraid he would be rejected.
Finally, he blurted out “How is your mother?”
What a ridiculous thing to say, he thought. How would she be after losing her husband and having her son questioning his paternity.
“Mother is doing well, sir. She sends her regards.”
“Her regards? What was she thinking? Why didn't she send her regards twenty years ago when she knew she was having my baby?”
Millicent put her arm on Neville's shoulder to calm him.
“I'm sorry, James. None of this is your fault. I just don't understand why I never knew about you.”
James handed his father an envelope. “Mother wanted me to give this to you. It's her attempt to explain.”
Neville took the envelope from his son's hand.
“I think we could all use a little brandy” Millicent said as an uncomfortable Leo excused himself to pour a glass for everyone including himself and Addie.
Neville put Helene's letter in his jacket pocket. He wanted to read it when he was alone. He could smell her delicate perfume lingering on the envelope and thought of their time together so many years ago.
James was interested in his sisters. He wanted very much to meet them but would understand if Neville didn't want to share the news of his existence with his legitimate daughters. Neville immediately reassured his son that he was now part of the Merryweather family and would never be hidden away again. Neville wasn't too sure what Prudence would have to say about that but he didn't care. He lost years with his son and he would make up for that loss in any way possible.
After a few hours, Neville finally realized what he had seen when he walked through the front door of his old home.
“What in the name of Sam Hill have you done to our house, Millicent?”
“Neville, I thought you wouldn't notice. Don't get upset but I simply don't have the money to keep this old place running. It was either turn it into something useful or let it go on the auction block.”
“Why didn't you come to me if you needed money? You know I would be glad to help you with the expenses.”
“Don't you see Neville, I needed to find a purpose in life. For years I have been living up on this hill and never really belonged to the community of Camden Corners. Oh, I know I have lived here all my life, but we Merryweathers always stood apart from everyone else. Papa flaunted his money and taught us to expect to be treated as though we were something special. Well, for the first time in my life I do feel special. Not because I'm above the rest of the town but because I'm working along side them. I have friends, Neville and I'm enjoying my life.
“Millicent, I'm proud of you. We both should have learned that lesson years ago. I ruined my own life because of snobbishness and almost ruined my daughter's chance for happiness because of it too.”
“How are Melanie and Michael?” Millicent asked
“They are doing well. Melanie spends more time with the Cassidy family than she does with her own and I don't blame her. Our household isn't a happy one. Prudence takes to her bed at least three times a week. She has been pouting since Hermione retired.”
“Hermione had been in Neville's household since the day he and Prudence were married. She is the reason Melanie and Melinda turned out as well as they did. She practically raised them single handedly.” said Millicent
“Now Millicent, don't start on Prudence. My sister never did have anything good to say about my wife.” Neville explained
Millicent was tempted to list the many flaws of Prudence but decided now was not the time.
Addie and Leo excused themselves to the kitchen to create a special meal for the guests. Millicent headed upstairs with Neville to prepare one of the guest rooms for his stay. James needed to get his thoughts together.
“I hope you won't mind, Mr. Merryweather,” said James. “I think I will take a walk around the village to clear my head. I'd like to see more of Camden Corners I honestly didn't notice my surroundings when I was looking for this house.”
“Of course I don't mind James. As much as I would like to hear you call me Father, I understand your reluctance to do so but I wish you would call me Neville.”
James smiled at this man who he knew would be important in his future. He liked Neville Merryweather. He could understand why his mother had fallen for the guy. He felt sadness that they had never been a family but was also grateful for Chester Robinson's love and caring through the years.
James walked leisurely through Camden Corners. He had heard of small town hospitality but had never experienced it first hand. He was surprised at the number of people who called hello to him.
Diana Taylor was setting out a plate of cookies for the children. “Would you like a sugar cookie young man? They are still warm from the oven.”
Rudy, the Pringle's dog wagged his tale and licked James' hand when he petted the top of his head. He walked by the antique shop and wondered if Aunt Millicent was in competition with them. At that moment, Nettie Crowley walked down the stairs.
“Hello young man. Are you visiting our town today? Oh my, you must be a relative of Millicent Merryweather, there is definitely a family resemblance. I didn't realize she had a nephew.”
James wasn't quite sure what to say to this very observant woman. “I'm just passing through ma'am. I do like your town and the people seem very nice.” James said trying to change the subject. Nettie took the hint and scolded herself for prying. She had a tendency to make everyone's business her own.
“Enjoy your stay in Camden Corners young man. Make sure you visit the candy shop across the street before you leave. Maddie Mackenzie makes the best double chocolate toffee fudge you have ever tasted.”
“I'll do that ma'am, thank you.” He tipped his hat to her and continued his walk. Mother would love this town he thought to himself. I think she would fit right in here.
Alone in the guest room, Neville opened the letter. His heart skipped a beat as he began to read.