Saturday, March 31, 2012
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.
Friday, March 30, 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 awhile 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 awhile. 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.