Saturday, June 2, 2012
Neville Merryweather sat in the chair by the window of the guest room of the house he grew up in. He had just finished reading the letter written to him by Helene Simpson Robinson, the mother of the son he never knew he had. How things would have been different if only she had told him the truth so many years ago. He had to admit, twenty years ago he wouldn't have defied his father. Neville was a weak man. He always had been and he was always afraid if he went against his father's wishes he would be stripped of all fringe benefits that came with being a Merryweather. As much as it pained him, he was grateful to Chester Robinson for raising James as his own. James would never carry the Merryweather name. It was a false family name to begin with. Neville would be the last of the Merryweathers and that was just as well. Neville reread Helene's letter.
I know this unexpected visit from our son will be a shock to you. I am sorry for the pain you are going through as you realize I kept the truth from you all these years. Believe me when I tell you that I have regretted that decision every day of my life.
Please be assured, Chester Robinson was the best father a boy could hope for. Chester loved James with all his heart and was committed to him from the beginning.
Neville, I don't know if I can ever make you understand why I kept this secret from you. What we did was a mistake. I loved you very much and I know you loved me but we were very different people. You needed a wife and mother to your children who would be by your side in the social situations that were always so important to you. I was not that woman. I was not born to that life and I'm not sure I would have been able to learn all the social graces that came naturally to you and your friends.
The announcement of your nuptials appeared in the newspaper just about the time I discovered I was in the family way. Even though I returned all your letters unopened, I was still heartbroken to learn of the marriage. Chester Robinson, a very dear friend of mine was the only person who knew of my dilemma. He offered to marry me and claim our child as his own.
Neville, I was in such a state. I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I didn't love Chester but didn't feel I had any choice. I felt I was being punished for my sinful behavior and I would have to pay the consequences.
As it turned out, Chester and I were married that very afternoon. Mama and Papa had always liked Chester and welcomed him into the family immediately. James was born 8 months later. He was a very tiny baby and everyone just assumed he had come early.
In time, I learned to love Chester. He was a kind and caring husband and adored James. As James grew older, Chester talked about telling him the truth about his parentage. I was against it from the start. Chester had been the only father James had ever known and I wanted to keep it that way for everyone's sake. I knew if James found out about you he would want to find you and my shameful secret would be revealed. Chester didn't concur but agreed to keep the secret.
Around this time a year ago, Chester fell ill. In time, he realized he was never going to get better. He had never betrayed me in all of our years together but in his deteriorating state, he told James the truth about you. I tried to convince James that it was the delirium that made Chester say those words but he didn't believe me. Your son had suspected something was amiss when he realized he looked nothing like the man he thought was his father.
After Chester's death, I begged James not to pursue the matter. He agreed but it kept eating away at him. He had a need to meet his birth father. I should have written to you to warn you but I was afraid of causing unrest in your home. I remembered you had come from Camden Corners and I assumed your sister still lived there. Again, I wasn't certain how well James would be received. I do hope you will treat him well. I can assure you he is not looking for any monetary benefits. He simply wants to meet his father. Sincerely, Helene Simpson Robinson
Neville read the letter over and over again. He knew Helene was right. She never would have been happy living in his world. It had taken him years to realize he wasn't happy living in that world himself. The best time of his life was the few months he and Helene were together when he attended school in Plattsburg.
Neville knew what he had to do. After a short rest and a filling meal, he announced he would be leaving that afternoon for home.
“I want to get this out in the open and I need to start by telling Prudence that James is my son and I want very much to be part of his life. That is if you feel the same way James.”
“Yes, Mr. Merryweather, err Neville. I would very much like to get to know you better. I don't wish to cause you or your family any distress though.”
“Prudence lives in constant distress” Millicent said quietly.
Neville glared at her but was in agreement.
“I'm not going to be dishonest with you son, Prudence will not be happy about this situation but she will have to accept it. I do think your sisters will be pleased to know they have a brother. The next train leaves in 20 minutes. I will return as soon as I can. Millicent, I hope you will keep my room open for me. I would like to spend some time with James upon my return.”
When Neville arrived home he entered the parlor where Prudence was sipping a glass of sherry. Neville was hoping the sherry would have a calming effect on her when he told her his news. Prudence accepted the news better than Neville anticipated. She excused herself to go to her room and that was when she dissolved into a heap on the floor. Prudence Wingate Merryweather was dead drunk.
Neville wasn't sure Prudence had even heard his confession. He carried her to her room and deposited her on her bed where her personal maid took over.
Melinda, the younger Merryweather daughter came bouncing in through the front door.
“Hello Papa, we thought you were on a business trip.”
“I came home sooner than expected. Is your sister with you? I have something I'd like to speak to you both about.”
“Melissa and Michael are smooching under the sycamore tree. Those two are revolting. Always kissing and hugging. I'm never going to get engaged if that is what you have to do.”
Neville laughed. “I think you will change your mind about that one of these days.”
Melissa walked in the door. “Hello Father, what's wrong? You look so serious.”
“I have something to tell you both, it's good news but it will be a surprise to you. I hope you think it's a good surprise because I'd like you to be happy about it.”
The girls listened intently as Neville explained the situation and how they had a brother they didn't know about all these years. Melissa thought it was the most romantic story she had ever heard. She cried for her father and his lost love. Melinda didn't quite understand how her father had a baby with another lady but she was happy she now had a big brother. They wanted to pack that very minute and leave for Camden Corners on the next train.
Neville told the maid to inform Mrs. Merryweather that the three of them were leaving to visit his sister for a few days. In Prudence's current state, he didn't think she would object.
Melissa asked if Michael could go along with them. After all, he would be part of the family soon. Neville agreed and the foursome boarded the train two hours later.
James was amazed that his father had been to Greensboro and back and brought his sisters with him. They were such pretty girls. It was difficult for him to keep his emotions under control. How nice it would have been to have watched these two young girls grow up. He and Michael Cassidy were instant friends. The girls both hugged him and welcomed them into their family. Millicent and Neville stood with their arms around each other watching the young people become acquainted.
“How did Prudence take the news?” Millicent whispered.
“I'm not really sure she even knows. My high society wife was as drunk as a skunk when I told her about James.”
“Oh my, Prudence always manages to surprise me.” laughed Millicent.
The sun was beginning to set as Neville relaxed in the parlor watching his three children talking and laughing as though they had known each other all their lives. He still was in a disbelief that this fine young man was his son. He wouldn't trade his daughters for anything in the world but he had longed for a son to complete the family. Prudence wouldn't hear of it. She cursed him both times she found herself in the family way and refused to even consider having another child. If it meant they would never again share a bed, so be it.
Addie had gone all out with the evening meal. She was thrilled to have two hungry young men to cook for. Millicent and her nieces helped set the table. Millicent had never learned to set a table or do any of the mundane chores before. She found she was enjoying giving a helping hand and was even known to wash a dish or two.
When the men were called to the table, James walked into the dining room smiling broadly, he picked up his wine glass.
“I'd like to make a toast to Aunt Millie for her hospitality and arranging for me to meet my family.”
The group stared at James with their mouths open wide when he referred to his aunt as Millie. They then glanced in Millicent's direction.
“Thank you James dear. No one has ever called me Millie before. I like it. It sounds so much friendlier than Millicent. Don't you think Addie? Yes, I would like to be called Millie from now on.”
From that moment on Millicent Merryweather Stout was known simply as Millie Stout. Her new name suited her well because she was no longer the rich lady who lived in a mansion on a hill. She was everyone's friend and neighbor.
“Oh Aunt Millie” said Melinda as the two were saying goodnight. “I don't want this day to ever end. It has been so wonderful meeting our brother. Father says we have to leave tomorrow morning. I wish we could just move to Camden Corners but mother would never leave all her snooty friends.”
“I know dear but you have a life in Greensboro too. I know you love Michael's family. They would miss you both if you moved out of town. I'm hoping James will stay on for a while and it is a short train ride from Greensboro.”
The next morning the visitors returned to Greensboro with a promise of a return the following weekend. They would bring their skis and take advantage of the late winter snowfall in the hills of Camden Corners.
“Are you sure Aunt Millie? You have been so kind to me I don't want to burden you and Addie.”
“Don't be silly my boy. It has been a pleasure having a young person around this old house. You are welcome to stay as long as you wish. Now, you and Cody go off and meet April and her friend and have a good time.”
Cody Hill was waiting for James. Word had gotten around town that there was a new fellow in town, like any newcomer he wouldn't be a stranger for long.
Back in Albany, Helene Robinson was holding the telegram that arrived an hour ago. James was going to be staying in Camden Corners for a while. He wanted to get to know his new family better. Helene was happy he hadn't been rejected but suddenly felt very alone and lonely.