December 30, 1950

James and Nell Frayne sat in the front parlor at Ten Acres, warming themselves by the fire.  As usual, Nell poured each of them a cup of fragrant, fresh-brewed coffee, deliberately adding exactly the amount of cream and sugar each of them liked.  It was the night before New Year’s Eve, and they had no plans for the evening.  James filled his pipe and drew on it until the tobacco ignited and began to burn.  He let it work up a good ember before drawing the fragrant smoke into his mouth and letting it escape in a series of ringed puffs.

“What has Win been up to for the past few days?” he asked. “I’ve hardly seen him.”

“I don’t know,” his wife replied.  “He said he had business in the city today that would keep him overnight.  He’ll be home sometime tomorrow, I expect.”  She handed James’ cup to him and settled back into her own favorite wing chair, putting her feet up on a needlepoint footstool.

“Well, I hope so.  I don’t care anything about seeing in the New Year, but George Rainsford has asked us to dinner.  I don’t like coming home late and driving that terrible road in the car.”  James held his coffee cup without drinking and puffed at his pipe for several seconds.  “I’d much rather he’d drive us.” 

“Yes, dear.”  Nell sipped her after-dinner coffee.  “You know, he’s been seeing a lot of the Vanderheiden girl.  He found out she was going to have to give up her house since her mother passed away.  She can’t afford the rent by herself.”

“And what business of his is that?”  James was confused.  “The girl’s out of school, an adult, isn’t she?  Surely she has other family she can turn to if she can’t support herself.”

“I don’t know about that.  You know, her mother did a lot of sewing for me over the past eight or so years.  She was a widow, and they moved to their home from Croton after her husband passed away because it was less expensive.  She also had an older daughter, but I don’t think she’d heard from that one for quite a few years.  She’d gone to work as a nanny during the war, and the family she worked for moved to Holland.”

“Well, that was a stupid move if there ever was one,” James pronounced.  He put down his coffee, stood and strode over to the window, peering outside.  “Of all the crazy things to do, moving over there during a war.  I don’t suppose they were Jewish, were they?”

“Oh, I don’t know anything about the family,” his wife said.  “I just know that the few times Mrs. Vanderheiden mentioned her older daughter, she seemed deeply distressed.  It must have been hard, not knowing.”  

“I’m sure it was,” James agreed, his face softening at her words. “If the girl is alone in the world, I’m not surprised that Win has taken her under his wing.  Still, it makes me a little uneasy that he’s choosing to spend so much time with someone he can’t possibly consider a potential wife.  If she makes a play for him, he’s likely to be a soft touch.”  He frowned and smoked in silence for several minutes, pacing back and forth before the fire. 

Nell picked up her latest book, and found the place she’d marked.  Holding the book closed but keeping her finger in the spot, she nodded.  “Yes, I think he would be.  It’s a shame Alice had to go off to Switzerland for the holidays, after spending the autumn in Paris.  It would have been nice if we could have set up a few opportunities for Win to see her.  They really are good friends, but neither of them seems to feel a spark for the other.”   She sighed.  “But we can’t control that, of course.  After all, our parents couldn’t control us.”  She laughed then, a musical sound that usually drew a smile from him.  Today he couldn’t take any pleasure in it. 

“She’s probably a gold-digger; everyone knows Win is my heir.  She’s likely to want a piece of that, especially if she’s had a hard life already.”  He drew on his pipe, brows drawn together.

“Dear, it seems a bit harsh to call that young girl a gold-digger,” Nell protested.  “I admit, I’ll be happy when he goes back to school and isn’t able to see her every day.  I don’t know how to discourage the relationship in a way that wouldn’t make him turn to her out of misguided gallantry.”

“I just hope Win’s involvement with this girl is platonic.  Helping her out is all right, but for him to take her out on dates—I wouldn’t like that at all. She’s nowhere near his equal, and she couldn’t possibly fulfill the obligations of the wife of Winthrop Frayne, of Frayne Enterprises.”  Unable to remain seated, he stood and paced back and forth in front of the fireplace.  “The boy doesn’t need to tie himself down right now anyway, not even to Alice.  When the time comes, I’m sure I can convince him that she would be the perfect wife for him.”  James hoped he was right.

“Alice will make her debut soon, and Win will have plenty of invitations to her parties.  He’ll graduate in June and then he can begin to look around for a wife,” Nell reminded him.

His pipe had burned down and he knocked the embers out into an ashtray, slipping the pipe back into his pocket after he was sure it was out.  He leaned on the mantel and watched as Nell opened her book and started to read.  Something was bothering him, and he wanted to take it apart and examine it.  Nell usually sensed his agitation, but she didn’t seem to be on his wavelength tonight. 

“Dammit, Nell!”  He rarely showed his explosive temper, but the unnamable fear that tugged at him wouldn’t be shoved down.  “I don’t want that boy turning out like his father.  When I think of all the time, love, and yes, money, I’ve given to him since we got him, I just can’t stand the idea that he’d throw it all away on someone who’s not worthy of him, who can’t ever help him to succeed in life.  I won’t stand for it!”

“Dear, you mustn’t excite yourself by borrowing trouble,” Nell chided him.  “You know what the doctor said about your blood pressure.”

“Damn my blood pressure!”  He began to pace back and forth in front of the fire.  “Damn doctors!  Anything in life that’s enjoyable is bad for you.”  He snorted and shoved his hands down into his pockets.

“Well, never mind about the doctor, then.  But regardless of your health, there’s absolutely nothing we can do about Win tonight.”  Nell put her book down and walked over to him, placing a calming hand on his arm.  “Please, give him credit for being sensible.  Your brother had a lot of problems, and they affected his judgment.  But Win is levelheaded, smart, and he’s had your good example all these years.  Right now, we have to trust him.”

“All right, he has had my example, it’s true.  But his father and that little strumpet of his had Win for his first six years.  Something of that wastrel may be imprinted on him in spite of everything.”   James could feel his face becoming red and he deliberately took a series of slow, deep breaths, purposefully relaxing one arm at a time and then his shoulders and neck.

“Sit down, dear.”  Nell reached up and ran her cool hand across his forehead.  “Let me rub your neck.”  She indicated the other armchair and reluctantly, he sat down and submitted to her ministrations.

“Does that feel better?” she asked after several minutes.

“Yes, it does,” he agreed.  “The boy has never let me down yet.  He has so much promise, Nell.  So much to contribute to society, and to keep the Frayne name and reputation going.  I suppose I’ll trust him a little longer.”  He reached up and took the hand that rested on his shoulder.  Bringing it around to his lips, he pressed a kiss into it.  “My dove of peace,” he said with a smile.  “Do you want to listen to Twenty Questions now?”

“Absolutely!”  She smiled and took her seat again as he turned on the radio and fine-tuned the signal. 

December 31

The next day was more of the same.  It was Saturday, so James had no reason to go into the city and visit his office.  Work on the new hospital had taken a hiatus for the holiday, so he didn’t need to go into Sleepyside, either.  He tried to spend time in his home office, going over his tax documents, but found himself unable to concentrate. 

“Damnit!  I wish the boy would call.  Even though it would be a long-distance charge, I’d like to hear from him.  I could stop worrying.”   He prowled restlessly about the house, interrupting the maid who was cleaning upstairs.  After pointing out some places she’d missed with the dust cloth, and making her so nervous she dropped a china ornament, he went downstairs, where he found the man who took care of the garden and landscaping during summer, and managed the furnace and snow-clearing tasks during the winter.  Close questioning about the amount of coal used during the past month soon had Gallagher’s Irish temper fired up.

Throwing his cap down, the wiry little man exclaimed, “Mr. Frayne, sir, I’ve worked for you for three years.  I’ve kept that old furnace going, tending her like a baby.  If my work ain’t good enough for you, I guess I’ll just be moving on.  There’s others as will hire me to do this work.”  He jutted his chin out and added, “I hear the Spencers have a brand-new furnace and their yard-man is getting old and feeble.  They may be looking for a new man.”

“Never mind!”  James hurried to say.  “I was too hasty.  You’re doing a fine job, Gallagher.  I’m just on edge today.”  He took himself off to his study again, but was unable to settle into any one activity.

Nell appeared at the door.  “I’ve been out to the mailbox,” she said.  “It’s snowing again.  I still haven’t heard anything from Win.  Do you think we should phone George with our regrets for tomorrow night?” She looked worried.  “I hate to cancel at the last minute, but I don’t like being out late at night in this weather, either.  I hope Win will be careful, wherever he is.”

James had been staring outside as he stood directly in front of the large window in his study, but could not have described the weather if his life had depended on it.  At her words, he shook himself and really looked out upon the scene.  At least six inches of snow covered the ground from the last snow three days earlier.  Large flakes swirled around and the sidewalk that led from the front porch to the coal chute had accumulated perhaps an inch of the white stuff since Gallagher had cleared it this morning.

“I’ll call him now,” he said.  “If Win was here, I think I’d feel fine about going.  But the county doesn’t maintain the road back here very well, and I don’t like to drive in the snow anyway.”

“I’ll speak to Cook.  She can prepare a cold supper for us.  That way, she and Betty and Gallagher can still have their evening off.  I think they were planning a little New Year’s Eve festivity tonight, listening to Guy Lombardo and his orchestra.  The Beldens’ hired boy was invited too, I believe.”

“Well, as long as they don’t get too rowdy.”  James tried to sound irascible, but he grinned and winked at her anyway.  “Although, if they are rowdy they can drown out any noise we might make.”  He walked over and placed an arm around her waist, pulling her to him and kissing the top of her head.

“You old goat!”  But she stroked his face and looked up at him, smiling fondly.  

“Well, go ahead and speak to Cook, so she’ll be able to plan something for us before she takes her holiday with the others.”  He gave her a playful push.  “We’ll make our own New Year’s Eve celebration.”

James and Nell enjoyed a flavorful tomato soup, a plate of roast beef sandwiches, and coleslaw for their dinner, with pound cake for dessert.  After they ate, they washed up together before taking a carafe of coffee to the parlor.  From the basement, snatches of the servants’ conversation were audible from time to time.  Cook, Betty, Gallagher and the Beldens’ hired boy, Lester Mundy, played canasta and listened to the radio.  The basement was a pleasant, open space, save for the room where the coal was stored and that which housed the furnace and water heater.  Prior owners of the place had outfitted a kitchen in the basement; Nell had installed a modern kitchen on the first floor after the Fraynes had purchased the property five years earlier.

“Dear, why don’t we take a short walk outside?” Nell asked.  “It’s beautiful with the pristine snow blanketing the ground, and the moon is so bright!”

“I suppose we could,” he agreed.  “It’ll be nice to smoke my pipe outdoors.  We can walk out to the summerhouse and sit there for a few minutes.”

Fifteen minutes later, the two of them were bundled in coats, scarves, gloves, and galoshes.  James carried a flashlight to make sure no hibernating snakes had chosen the summerhouse as their winter shelter.  Snow still fell softly outdoors.  He couldn’t help enjoying the feel of the large flakes falling onto his face, leaving ice-cold drops of water as they melted.  Nell walked next to him, tipping her own face up to feel the falling snow.  In the summerhouse, he checked under every cushion and around the edges of the floor from force of habit.  Copperhead snakes favored the summerhouse, and although logic told him they were all in hibernation now, he couldn’t suppress a prickle of worry. 

“I guess they’ve all managed to burrow underground,” he remarked.  “We’re safe tonight.”   They sat and gazed down across the valley toward the bluffs that overlooked the Hudson River.  The moon was just rising, and they enjoyed its light, reflected on the snow outside.   

“Aren’t we lucky?” Nell asked.  “This has to be the most beautiful spot on earth, and it’s ours.”

“It is a pretty spot,” James agreed.  He gazed out over the scene, and his beloved nephew’s face seemed to float just outside of his field of vision.  “I hope Win’s all right,” he said, jumping up and turning around to look back in the direction of the house.  “I wish he was here with us, not out somewhere in this weather, maybe with a girl we don’t know.”  The moment was spoiled.     

In another moment, Nell said, “Let’s go back inside.  I’m getting cold.”  As usual, he thought, she could sense what he was feeling.  He stood, and hand in hand, they walked back to the house, snow crunching under their boots.  Although they went through the motions of turning on the radio and listening to Guy Lombardo and his orchestra, Nell kept glancing up from her book, and James cleaned his pipe mechanically.  At 12:01, he turned off the radio and they went upstairs to bed.

James lay wakeful for a long time.  Finally, he felt himself drifting off, and sighed with relief.  But his rest didn’t last long.  He was awakened by the noise of someone pounding on the front door.  Although he was well away from the door, he could not ignore the noise, and finally got up and donned his robe and slippers.  He went downstairs to the front door, and looked through the glass sidelight to see who was out there.  It was Win, and he was pounding away.

Why doesn’t he use his key, James wondered.  In his relief to see that his nephew was home, safe and apparently alone, he started to unlock the door.  But something was wrong—the lock was jammed.  No matter what he did, he couldn’t get the door unlocked.  As his eyes became adjusted to the dark, he could see that a blizzard swirled just outside the porch.  Win’s face was pale, like he was frostbitten, James noticed.  He redoubled his efforts with the lock, to no avail.  Win’s knocking became less forceful and his skin was turning blue from the bitter cold.  The lock wouldn’t budge.  Desperately, he yanked at the door and to his astounded relief, it flew open.  But Win had collapsed and was lying immobile on the porch, snow blowing in and already covering his body.  James exerted all of his strength, and pulled him into the warm foyer.  But when he turned him onto his back, he could see that Win was dead.

James cried out in anguish, and opened his eyes to find himself in his bed.  Nell was sitting up, rubbing his shoulder, and there was no sound besides his own ragged breathing. 

“What were you dreaming, dear?”  Nell’s worried voice asked.  “You were groaning and thrashing around like something terrible had happened.”

“It was just a bad dream,” he answered, not wanting to tell her about it.  He still felt shaken by the experience.  They lay back down and eventually he could tell Nell had dropped off to sleep.  But he couldn’t sleep.  Even if the lock had been stuck, why hadn’t he gone to another door to let Win inside?  What in the world would Win ever have been doing out in the blowing snow at this time of night?  Dreams don’t make sense, he insisted to himself.  And they don’t mean anything.  But his rationalizations didn’t help him to sleep.

In the morning, he got out of bed more tired than he’d been when he lay down.

January 1, 1951

He and Nell attended services at the Congregational Church in Sleepyside, as they did every Sunday, but on this day he had difficulty keeping his mind on the service.  The frightening dream made no sense, and as he tried to analyze it, the details of the dream became more and more foggy.  Finally, he convinced himself it meant nothing.  At least, he told himself it meant nothing.

All day, as he went about his usual activities, his mind was occupied wondering about his nephew.  The boy was more precious to him than a nephew would normally have been, since he and Nell had no children of their own.  They’d raised Win since he was six years old, when his father, James’ brother Rainsford, sent them a telegram asking for James to come and fetch the child from Rainsford’s Paris apartment. 

Rainsford Frayne was a gambler and an alcoholic who had squandered his inheritance by betting on horses and card games.  James tried to excuse his brother’s profligacy because the fellow had been shell-shocked during the First World War.  No doubt some of his problems could be laid to that experience.  But he couldn’t forgive Rainsford for setting up a love-nest with a young actress of no family, and having a child with her.  The girl had died of a fever shortly after Win’s birth, and from that time until the boy was six, his father either employed or supported a succession of women to care for him.  When Rainsford became ill with tuberculosis and had to go into a sanitarium, he’d called on James.  Straight away, James had booked passage to Paris to fetch the child home to Nell.  From the seaport to Paris by train, and then to the squalid apartment, he’d never stopped.  A short visit with his brother had left him with the conviction that he had looked his last upon Rainsford.  The realization upset him more than he’d expected, and he boarded ship with a feeling of foreboding, his stomach churning before the journey even began. 

During the long, rough transatlantic voyage back to the States, the little boy had stayed at James’ side while he was seasick, keeping a cool cloth to his head and smoothing his hair back from his face after he threw up.  When he finally felt human again, Win clung to him, a quiet, thin little chap with a shock of red hair and great green eyes.  The two of them wandered over the ship, seeing and learning everything they could.  James made sure he ate plenty of good, filling food and by the time they arrived in New York, he had to take his nephew shopping for more clothes.

From that time, James had bonded so strongly with his nephew that sometimes he actually forgot they weren’t father and son.  Nell doted on the boy, and James firmly believed most children would have been spoiled by all the attention he received.  But not Win.  With a sunny, affectionate nature that attracted friends everywhere he went, Win soon ensconced himself firmly in the hearts of the childless, older couple—especially after his father died and Win became James’ legal ward.  

James readily admitted to Nell that Win was like Rainsford, his father, in temperament.  But he did everything in his power to quash any signs of interest in gambling or the other vices young boys practiced.  When Win turned twelve, James sent him to a rustic boarding school in Arizona, where he’d become involved in Scouting.  James approved of the Boy Scouts and was happy to see Win enjoying the healthy outdoor activities they practiced when he was at home.  Between school and camp sessions, he and Win had spent idyllic times together on fishing trips and hikes.  It was at the Arizona school that Win met Matthew Wheeler.  James wasn’t sure he approved entirely of Matt, who was a bit too brash and flashy for his taste.  But the two redheads had been fast friends, and Win had been downhearted when Matt transferred to a tony prep school back east after their freshman year.   The two had met up again as camp counselors at age sixteen and had been elated when they both were accepted at Harvard.

Win lived in a largely male world, between boarding school, Scouts, and summer camp.  But along the way, James and Nell had tried to introduce him to a few, carefully selected young girls.  Foremost was the niece of James’ attorney, financial advisor, and friend, George Rainsford—a distant family connection.  Alice was a lovely, intelligent young woman who was also an orphan and George’s heir.   James didn’t believe his nephew was close to being ready to settle down to marriage, but he and Alice were friendly and had many common interests.  She was athletic and loved fishing, as well as art and literature.  If both of them could avoid other entanglements for just a couple more years, James believed they would come to realize they were perfect for each other.  Alice had thrown a wrench into his plans by spending an extended time in Europe during the past six months.  He hoped it wouldn’t give Win an opportunity to connect with other, less suitable, young women.

All morning he prowled the house, although today he didn’t disturb the staff at their work.  But on his third trip to the sitting room where Nell was writing letters, she lay her pen down on her writing desk.  “James, dear, you’re prowling around like a caged lion.  Why don’t you take a walk outside for awhile?”

“I know.  I just can’t seem to settle down.  I wish Win would get home.  It’s not like him to stay away without letting us know what he’s doing.”  James sighed in exasperation.

“You know, he is over twenty-one now,” she reminded him.  “When you gave him that car, it was only natural he’d be gone more.”

“You’re right, as always.”  He rubbed his forehead.  “I think I will walk down to the mailbox.  Can I mail any of your letters?”

“No, I’m doing New Year’s letters to about twenty people, and I’m going to take them all down at once,” she said.  “Enjoy your walk, and maybe we can walk together later. Cook has left a cold lunch and we’ll eat when you get back.”

He tramped about in the snow for nearly an hour, checking the mail, ensuring the walk around the house was cleared, and assessing the amount of snow at the end of the driveway since the snowplow had been through.  Some of his nervous energy was expended with this activity and he returned to the house hungry and in a better mood.  After lunch, he was able to sit in the library, read the newspapers, and listen to a musical program on the radio.  He had even started to doze off, his sleepless night catching up with him, when the sound of a car in the driveway startled him into full wakefulness.  He stood up and walked to the window to see who it was.  Win’s car was parked in the driveway, and Win himself was out of the car and closing the door with a bang.

James shouted, “Nell!  Win’s here,” and walked to the front door to greet his nephew.  But when he threw open the front door, he saw Win leading a petite blonde girl in a red swing coat by the hand.  James peered at her and even pulled out his glasses to try to see her more clearly.  He didn’t immediately recognize her and decided to wait for an introduction.

“Win!  Glad to see you, boy,” he greeted the tall young man with an affectionate grip of his hand and arm.   

“Uncle James, I’m glad to be home again,” Win said with a hearty return shake of James’s hand.  “I want you to meet my wife, Katie.”  He drew the young girl forward.  She smiled in a friendly fashion.

James couldn’t believe his ears.  “Your… wife?  When... where... how...”  He stammered, his voice trailing off.

“We got married Friday in the city.  I showed Katie the sights and we had a couple of nice dinners.  But I was ready to come home.”  Win smiled again, glancing down at the  girl with pride.  She returned the look.

James realized he was still standing in the foyer, and Win and his…wife… were still in their coats, probably melting snow from their boots onto the polished wooden floor.  He was still reeling from the shock of Win’s announcement, but a spark of anger was kindling in his breast.  He heard Nell’s footsteps approaching from the hallway, and turned toward her.

“Aunt Nell!”  Win stepped forward to greet his aunt with a kiss and a hug, but Katie stayed where she was, a shy, uncertain smile on her face.  She seemed to realize she was out of place, James thought.  “Katie, come here,” Win said.  “Aunt Nell, I want you to meet Katie again.  You met her before, back summer before last, but now she’s part of our family.  We’re married, Aunt Nell.”

Nell shot a glance at James, whose mind had started working again.    

“Win, your aunt and I have been worried about you.  I wish you had let us know your plans.”  That was a mild way of letting Win know he was disappointed, without immediately provoking a fight, he thought.

“Well, actually it was a spur-of-the-moment decision,” Win admitted.  “But we’re very happy.”

“Spur of the moment?  New York State has a twenty-four hour waiting period, so you must have planned it at least a day ahead of time.”  James drew his brows together in a scowl he tried unsuccessfully to smooth out.

“Yes, we did plan it a day ahead.  But it was a sudden decision.  I hadn’t planned to marry anyone until I graduated.”  Win flushed and looked a bit embarrassed.

“James, dear, why don’t we go into the parlor and sit down?”  Nell laid a hand on his arm.  James recognized her “calm down” signal, but he plunged ahead.

“Yes, let’s sit down,” he said through gritted teeth.  “Maybe Win can tell us why he suddenly changed his plans.”  He strode toward the front parlor, but instead of sitting, he stood before the fireplace and began to fill his pipe.  Win doffed his own coat and took Katie’s, hanging them both on the hall coat tree.  Nell drew the younger woman into the parlor and sat on the sofa, facing the fireplace.  She patted the spot next to herself and Katie sat down while Win took one of the wing chairs that flanked the fireplace.

“I think you both know that Katie’s mother passed away last month,” Win began.  “She couldn’t afford to stay in her home.  There are apartments near school where we can live while I finish up my degree, and then I’d planned to move back to Sleepyside.”

“The normal procedure for a young man dating a girl he wants to marry is to introduce her to his family before the marriage.”  James tried to keep the irritation out of his voice.  “Why, Win, if she is that important to you, didn’t you bring her to meet us, invite us to get to know her?”

“Uncle James, I’m sorry if I did things backwards.”  Win’s face flushed.  “But I love Katie and I’m sure you will, too, when you get to know her better.”  He was apparently still determined to bluff this thing out, James decided.  He cut his glance toward Nell, who seemed to be trying to engage the girl in small talk.

“What in the world will Alice think?  All these years, she’s always thought you’d marry her.  As did her uncle and I.”  And we’ve planned everything out to make it easy for both of you, he added silently.  “She could be a suitable wife for the heir to Frayne Enterprises.  What can Miss Vanderheiden offer you?”

“Uncle James, Alice and I never spoke of marriage.  And since she decided to spend a year in Europe, I have to wonder if she is as interested as you and her uncle seem to think.  Katie is young, but she’s smart and can learn anything she needs to know.”

“What kind of hold has she got on you?  Have you sired a brat on her?”  James couldn’t take it any longer.  There could be only one reason for Win’s impulsive decision, and his honorable nephew wouldn’t have hesitated to marry a girl who was pregnant with his child.  “She knows I’ve got money.  Is that what she wants?  I’ll give her enough to support her and the child, too, if she’ll leave you alone.”

Win jumped up, his face flaming.  “I want you to take that back immediately, Uncle James.  Katie is my wife.  If you can’t accept that, we’ll leave here and make our own way.  But I won’t stand here and listen to my wife’s name being dragged through the mud.”  With visible effort, he tightened his jaw.  “You can write me in care of the university if you wish to contact me again.  Good day, Uncle James.”  He spun around and turned to his aunt.  “Good day, Aunt Nell.” 

“Win!”  She took his arm and looked at her husband.  “James!  Please, don’t do this!”  James deliberately turned away from her pleading eyes.  He was right and he wasn’t bending on this issue.  A man had to take a stand sometimes.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Win bend over and kiss his aunt again before taking Katie’s hand.  Nell seemed frozen in shock, tears trickling down her cheeks.  James watched in silence as Win helped his new wife into her coat.  He couldn’t see Katie’s face and deliberately avoided looking at Nell’s.  A gust of cold air entered the foyer as Win opened the front door, and the newlyweds walked back outside into the snow.

Win’s words echoed in James’ ears as the heavy front door closed behind the young couple. 

At the sound, Nell shuddered and emerged from her stunned state.  She grabbed his hand and cried, “Why, James?  Why did you have to drive him away, when you love him even more than you love me?”  Clutching at his arm, she implored, “Go after him!  Beg him to forgive you.  Hurry!”  She pushed at him to go.  He remained still as granite, at once wanting to take back his words and to hurl even more hurtful ones after his nephew.

“Why did he have to do this? That girl is a gold-digger if there ever was one.  She can’t possibly have anything in common with him.”  James began to pace again in his agitation.  “It must be his father coming out in him.  After all this time, I thought he didn’t take after Rainsford with women.  I guess I was wrong.  Old Lear had it right:  How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is... To have a thankless child!”

“James, you know you don’t mean that.  Go now, and stop him.  Please, before we lose him forever.”  Nell pulled a handkerchief from her skirt pocket and let out a choked sob.

James stood indecisively for another moment, then went and grabbed his own overcoat from the hall closet.  Pulling galoshes over his shoes, he looked out the front door, but Win and Katie were out of sight, although Win’s car was parked in front of the house.  He hurried outside to the garage behind the house, jumped into his own car and backed out, heading for town.  Although he drove all the way into Sleepyside, he never caught sight of his nephew and the girl.  Where could they have gone?  Realizing there was nothing more he could do, he turned around and drove home with a heavy heart.

Old Lear was wrong about his own daughter, but after all we’ve done for Win…!  Hot anger and bitterness battled with stabs of regret and helpless love inside of him, and it was fortunate that traffic on the snowy road was light as he drove back to Ten Acres, for unbidden tears blurred his vision as he drove.

Nell was still waiting for him in the front parlor.  She ran to help him with his coat as he stomped the snow from his galoshes.  He knew his face told her everything she needed to know, but he said it anyway.  “I never saw them.  Someone must have picked them up, and who knows where they went?”

“Maybe you can write to Win in care of the college, as he suggested, and ask his forgiveness,” she suggested.

But at her words, his heart hardened.  “I’ll not beg his forgiveness.  He owed us something for all the years we’ve taken him into our home and our hearts.  He was the beloved son we never had.  He chose to leave us out of the most important decision of his life, and I won’t beg him to come back.”  He hung up his coat and removed his galoshes, setting them on the mat in front of the door.  “He can write to me if he wants to.  Let’s eat some supper.”

The supper they ate might have been sawdust for all James could have said.  Nell didn’t eat anything, but he forced himself to swallow a few bites.

Later, before bed as was his custom on Sundays, James read to Nell from the Bible.   She had cried off and on ever since Win had left, but settled herself in her chair to listen.  But the chapter he read covered the Battle of Ephraim, and the death of Absalom.  He forced himself to keep reading even after Nell started crying again, but as he reached the end, his voice cracked and died away.  And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!

James closed the Bible and put it down on the table, and covered his face with his hands.  “Absalom, my son!” 

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Author’s Notes

6057 words

I can’t believe it’s been 7 years since my debut as a Jix Author!  Thanks to so many wonderful members of the community, it’s been an incredible experience and I hope to be writing for many more years.  

Thank you to CathyP and to all of the administrative team, owners, and moderators over the years, for creating Jixemitri and keeping it going as our home on the net!  You have provided such a welcoming, friendly spot for those who love the characters created by Julie Campbell (and some created by the various KKs).

Thank you to all the members of the Jix community.  You are all special people, who have a forever place in my heart.

Thank you to my lovely editors, Ronda, Ryl, and Trish!  These ladies keep me going and add so much to every story I write.  I could not do it without you.  Any remaining mistakes are my own, and not theirs.

Sadly as some alert readers may notice, I got my days mixed up... December 30 was actually Saturday, not Friday. Since I'd already made Dec. 30 the wedding date and said it was on Friday, I continued on. Apologies to all!

A few notes about this story:  James and Nell listened to Twenty Questions on the radio.  I had wanted them to listen to Gunsmoke, but discovered that the long-lived Western didn’t start until 1952.  Twenty Questions was broadcast at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday nights and I thought it was a show the Fraynes might enjoy, since my parents were fond of quiz shows. Thanks to Wikipedia for information on radio broadcasts of the 1950s.

Win was thoughtless in not introducing Katie to his family first.  Yes, he was a good guy and honorable, too—but even honorable guys can do stupid things sometimes.

James said terrible things to the nephew he loved.  He was hurt and disappointed at Win’s actions, and his quick temper led him to say things that led to much pain for himself as well as for Nell and Win. 

Why did Win leave the car at Ten Acres?  It was his, a gift from James and Nell.  And as one of my editors pointed out, it was stupid for him and Katie to walk away from Ten Acres in the snow when they could have driven to the train station in comfort.  Win was angry and in the heat of anger, he saw the car as a symbol of James’ desire to control his life. 

Smart people do dumb things sometimes.

My idea of what Ten Acres looked like at the time this story is set. The house is an actual house located near Lawrenceburg, KY.

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. All other material on these pages copyright 2010 by MaryN/Dianafan. Images from Microsoft Clip Art and; manipulated by Mary N in Photoshop. Graphics copyright by Mary N 2012.

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