Don’t adjust your TV – it really is a new chapter.Last time, the Bradfords jumped on the stock market bandwagon; Cindy gave birth to Nicholas, thegeneration 7 heir but struggled in her new role as mother, much to Marsha’s chagrin; the last of generation6 headed off to college; Phily became the last woman standing of generation 4 with the passing of Katie;Cindy gave up her singing career to be a mom after little Nicky stole her heart; the reality of Prohibitioncoming to an end caused James to think about his future; generation 6 spare Cyrus got married afterconfiding his fears in a sympathetic Cindy; Marsha found out the truth of what James did for a living; Taddyand Calla and Sterling and Viola had daughters; and the bottom dropped out of the stock market, leavingeveryone to wonder what was next; and Cindy rallied her family with the knowledge that she was expectingagain.Blanket warning about language, topics, adult situations, etc. James has only 1 nice point, and he likes toswear like a sailor, and Cindy’s a Romance Sim, with some type of purple-hearted want in her panel at alltimes.Here you go: Chapter 24 of The Bradford Legacy.
The crash of the Simerican stock market hit the entire country hard. Simsfield and PortsimouthMassimchusetts were no exception. As fall turned to winter that year, the repercussions from the economicdownturn became clearer.
One of the first victims was Pierce Phoenix, who had been the editor of a weekly magazine. As the generalpublic had less disposable income at their disposal, magazines were one of the first things that were cutout of the family budgets. Pierce’s magazine went out of business, and he was unable to find a newposition. Add that to the losses that the family took from their investments, and the losses of their savingswhen the Portsimouth Bank failed, and they found themselves to be in rough shape. If it hadn’t been forthe meager pension that the family patriarch Alonzo still received, they would not have been able tosurvive.
The Pasangs, descendants of Jefferson’s Aunt Diana, had mortgaged their house to pay for their son’sschooling. When Amos lost his job, they couldn’t keep up with the payments and lost it. Fortunately,Orson offered them a place in his new home with his wife and daughter, but Kea was heartbroken to leavethe home she’d entered as a bride.
The Menons, parents of Taddy’s wife Calla, were in a similar fix. Jason had had the brilliant idea tomortgage the house to invest in the market, and they lost their home to the bank when they couldn’t repayit. The shock of the crash was too much for Jason to bear, and he succumbed to a heart attack not longafter he heard the news.
Esther had no other choice but to move in with her daughter Calla. She did her best to be helpful aroundthe house and teach little Rosalie, but her heart just wasn’t in it. She moved around the house as if ashadow, and nothing her family did could draw her out of her misery.
Jason Seiff, Lizzie’s husband, lost his bid for reelection to the town council. He’d advocated for continuingservices in order to keep people employed, but with so many people out of work no one wanted the taxincrease that would accompany Jason’s plan. At his age, he had a hard time finding a new job, so hedecided the best thing to do would be to help Lizzie in her new endeavor to sell her excess produce to thetownspeople.
Viola too was feeling the effects of the market crash. Many of her patrons has lost their entire fortunes, andcould no longer purchase her paintings. It was a blow to her ego more than anything else, as Sterling andGeorge were busier than ever with their law practice and the family income had hardly been diminished.Still, Viola worked at her easel every day, putting her paintings away in storage in the attic. She knew thatone day things would turn around, and her artwork would sell once again.
Cyrus, who had grand plans to build Portsimouth’s version of the Simpire State Building, was let go fromhis architecture firm without warning. Though he tried, he was unable to secure another form ofemployment. Instead, he worked on repairing the few cars in town for the lucky citizens who did have toworry about getting to work.His mechanic work brought in little money, but Cyrus couldn’t bear the thought of being supported by hiswife and her inheritance, though he would never admit it to Georgianna.
And then there were the Bradfords themselves. Though the family’s loss in the market was not as severeas some of their friends and neighbors, it was still significant. Added to the loss they took when theSimsfield Bank failed, and things were tight.Marsha did her part by making sure the fall harvest was canned, pickled, or otherwise preserved to getthem through the winter. Cindy would have helped, but the smells from the kitchen made her morningsickness worse. Instead, she used a portion of the money she’d put aside from her singing to purchase asome chickens, so the family would have fresh eggs.
Jefferson and James were both putting in extra hours, for the increased income and to show theirrespective bosses that they were willing to do whatever was necessary. When not at their offices, the menspent their time in the forest cutting wood to burn in the fireplaces, so they wouldn’t have to purchase asmuch coal to keep the house warm in the winter. They also spent a number of early morning fishing in thesmall pond by the house. What they didn’t eat on the day caught Marsha salted and put away for themonths when the ice was too thick for the men to break.
There was another noticeable change at the Bradford farm. The billiards table, purchased all those yearsago for Elias, collapsed one day while James was playing to take his mind off of things. It was determinedthat the table was too far gone to be worthy of a repair job. Sadly, the men salvaged what they could, andthe billiard room, as it had come to be known, stood empty and without purpose.
One day, after rooting around in the attic, Jefferson found something to put in the empty room.“What is it?” Nicky asked, as he watched Cindy and Marsha wipe the large object down with damp cloths.“It’s a sewing machine,” Jefferson said. “I don’t remember seeing it, so I’m guessing that it was mygrandmother’s. Mother must have had it put away.”James nodded. “Yeah, I can’t see her sewing.”“My mother always wanted one, but we never could afford it,” Cindy said. “It will come in handy, makingthings for this little one.” She rested her hands on her expanding stomach with a small smile.
“I thought you hated sewing,” James commented. “You always sent your dresses out for alterations whenyou sang at the club.”“I do hate sewing,” Cindy said. “But I never had something like this to help me before. Maybe sewing witha machine will be better than doing it by hand.”Marsha smiled. “I hope it is for your sake, dear. And if Nicholas keeps shooting up the way he has, he’llbe needing new pants every other week.”
Nicky’s face fell. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to grow so fast.”“Hey now,” James said. “You just take after your old man. Nothing wrong with that. We Bradford men areall tall. Now, why don’t you go find something to amuse yourself with?”Nicky turned to Jefferson. “You promised to show me how to play chess, Grandpa.”“I did. Come on, then.”
Cindy followed Nicky out of the room with her eyes. She sighed softly. “He’s such a serious little boy. Idon’t know where he gets it from.”James shrugged. “He may yet grow out of it. It’s too bad there aren’t more boys his age around for him toplay with.”“I keep forgetting that he takes everything I say so literally. I can’t tease him as I used to do with you,”Marsha said with a smile for James.
“Well, that’s a worry for another day. In the meantime, with the winter weather upon us, Nicky really needsa good, warm coat. I don’t want him catching cold while he’s walking to or from school,” Cindy worried.“Most of the affordable ones are gone from the stores,” James sighed. “I don’t really feel like spending a lotof money on something he’s going to outgrow in a year, and probably mess up playing.”Marsha leaned over and opened the chest of old clothes that Jefferson had brought down from the atticalong with the sewing machine.“I don’t see why we can’t use your grandfather’s old overcoat for material for a new coat for Nicholas,” shesaid. “The wool’s hardly worn, and it will keep the worst of the weather out.”James smirked. “Grandfather would roll over in his grave at the idea of his fine clothes being cut up. Let’sdo it.”“James,” Marsha chided.
The winter coat that Cindy made for Nicky wasn’t the fanciest, but it was warm. Nicky was grateful for it onthe walks to and from the schoolhouse that winter.
Not all of the children in town were so lucky, as Nicky soon found out. One day he was kept inside duringrecess because of a slight case of the sniffles. He didn’t mind so much; he would much rather read a bookthan pretend to enjoy playing with the other children. He was so engrossed in his book that he didn’t noticethat he wasn’t the only one in the classroom.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” a girl’s voice asked.Nicky looked up to see a redheaded girl he didn’t recognize staring at him. “I guess not,” he said, his eyesreturning to the book in his hands.“Thank you,” she said. “It’s so much warmer over here by the stove.”“Uh huh,” Nicky said, not looking up from his reading.
“Why are you staying inside today?” she asked.“I’ve got a stuffy nose,” he said, looking up from his book. “My mama didn’t want it to turn into anythingworse.”She didn’t reply, and Nicky nearly turned back to his book. But then it occurred to him that it would berather rude not to talk to the girl, when she was clearly making an effort to talk to him.“Why did you stay inside?”“I don’t have a winter coat,” she said. “I just have a sweater that I wear on the walk to and from school. SoTeacher wouldn’t let me out.”
Nicky nodded. His parents had already explained that there were a lot of families who didn’t have themoney to buy things, because something big had crashed.“But I don’t mind. It’s nice and warm in here. It’s one of the reasons I like coming to school.”“I like staying inside, ‘cause then I can read my books,” Nicky replied. “I like reading. I learn about all kindsof stuff that way.”“That’s nice,” she said. “I’d like to read more, but I don’t have a lot of books at home. Just a fewcookbooks, and you can’t really read them.”“Would you like to borrow one of my books?” he asked. “I have to ask my Papa if that’s okay first, but heshould say yes.”
“I’d like that a lot. Thank you…” she hesitated. “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”Nicky smiled at her. I’m Nicholas Bradford, but everyone except my Grandma calls me Nicky.”“I’m Alice Kalson,” she said, returning his smile.“It’s nice to meet you, Alice.” *****
The family was in the parlor when Jefferson arrived home. He did not call out a greeting to them as heusually did; instead he hung his coat and hat on their hooks silently.“Jefferson?” Marsha called. “Is everything all right?”He drew in a bracing breath and joined them in the parlor.
“Not really. The company went bankrupt, and they let everyone go.”There was a collective gasp from around the room. “But why?” Marsha asked.“With things being the way they are, people don’t have extra money for frivolities like games,” Jeffersonsaid with a shrug as he sat down. “I suppose I should have seen it coming, but I was too short-sighted, Iguess.”
Nicky looked up from the floor where he was working on his homework. “Is that bad, Grandpa?”Jefferson chuckled a little. “Well, it’s not good, Nicky. We were counting on me working for a little longerto make up for the losses we took in the stock market. But now, I’m not sure what this means.”“No pension, Pops?” James asked.Jefferson shook his head. “I’m lucky I was able to get the few things out of my desk that were mine. Theyhurried us out of the building pretty quickly after the announcement.”
The room fell quiet, the only sound the occasional squeak of Nicky’s pencil against his schoolwork.Everyone was thinking about what Jefferson’s suddenly unemployed state meant for the family. They hadbeen counting on his extra income recoup some of the funds lost in the crash and the subsequent bankfailure. James knew that the rumblings of Prohibition ending were getting stronger, and he worried that thefamily might lose their only source of income. He and Cindy had a silent conversation as she rubbed herlarge belly. In her current condition, there was no way she could go anywhere and sing to supplement theirincome.“What are you going to do now, Grandpa?”“I don’t know, Nicky. I really don’t know.”
“Nicky, why don’t you go finish your homework upstairs at your desk?” Cindy said.“But it’s warmer down here,” he protested.“Your mother told you to do something,” James said, a warning clearly in his voice. “Upstairs.”“Yes, Papa,” he said. He got up from his spot in front of the fire, and looked at all of them. “You couldhave just said you want to talk about grown-up stuff. I would have understood.”
They waited until they heard the click of Nicky’s door shutting. “Was I that bad when I was his age?”James asked his parents.Marsha smiled. “You mostly had the good sense not to sass because you knew it meant a tongue lashingfrom your grandmother. But yes, you were.”“Now what?” James asked, returning the discussion to the issue at hand. “I know we can live off of whatI’m earning – don’t make a face, Mama. I know you don’t like what I do, but it’s the only income we’ve gotnow.”
“You’re right, James. I don’t like it, but I’m willing to accept the reality of the situation. We do need somemoney coming in to pay the bills and the taxes. But what if Prohibition does get repealed? Where will webe then?”“There’s a ways to go before that happens, Mama,” James said. “Things will probably turn around beforethen, and I’ll find something else to do.”Jefferson nodded. “I’ll see if I can find something else as well, but I’m not getting my hopes up. I’m notexactly at an age where people are rushing to hire me, even in the best of economic situations.”
“Are you just going to sit around all day?” Cindy asked.“Well, if I still don’t have something come spring, I’ll help with the gardening and fishing and such. In themean time, I was thinking about trying my hand at making a few things so the children can have somethingto open on Christmas morning.”“I don’t know if the baby will be born by then, Jefferson,” Cindy interjected.“Oh, I’m not just talking about your and James’ children. I’d like to make something for Viola’s daughter,and Taddy’s as well. Poor little tykes deserve to believe in Santa Claus for a little longer.”
“What are you thinking about making?” Marsha asked. “And where will you do it?”“I’m not sure what I want to make. Toys or games of some sort. And I was planning on setting up in theold billiards room. I can keep you and Cindy company with your sewing. If things go well, I can even tryselling a few things.”“I suppose that’s the only thing to do,” Marsha said. “But we shouldn’t plan on too much extra money fromyour endeavors.”“I wasn’t planning on that,” Jefferson replied. “Maybe a few dollars here and there for an unexpectedexpense.”
Everyone fell silent again, until Cindy rose. “My back is aching really bad. I’m going to go soak in the tubbefore supper. James, will you help me up the stairs? I’m so worried I’m going to lose my balance and falldown them.”“Of course,” he said, jumping up. “I’ll make sure that Nicky’s finished his homework while I’m up there.”
James followed Cindy into their bedroom, intending on helping her ready for her bath by removing hershoes. But when they were in the room with the door closed firmly behind them, she rounded on him.“You lied to your parents, you know. The repeal of Prohibition’s not that far off, and then where will webe?”“Hey!” he exclaimed, provoked by the unexpected attack. “You’re the one who said you’re not afraid to bepoor again. You just might get your wish.”Cindy’s face fell. “James, I didn’t mean….”“No, I’m the ass here,” he sighed. “I really need to learn to control my temper better.”
“And I should think before I open my mouth,” she said. “But I can’t help but worry. If I hadn’t decided Iwanted another baby…”“Stop. This is not your fault. If I hadn’t encouraged my father to invest our money in the stock market…”“We would have still lost it when the bank failed. James, face it. We’re stuck in a no-win situation. We justhave to do the best with what we have.”He nodded. “And you need to stop worrying so much. It can’t be good for the little one.”
“It’s hard not to,” she admitted. “At least Nicky seems to be doing fine. All he talks about is his new friendAlice and how much fun they have reading books together at recess. She’s all he talks about. If I were abetting woman, I’d put money on the two of them making a match of it someday.”James smirked. “He’s just a kid, Cindy. He’s going to meet lots of girls before he’s old enough to thinkabout getting married.”“I know my son, James. He’s sweet on her, even if he doesn’t know it yet.”
“Tell you what. If you’re right and they do end up getting married, I’ll buy you a fancy new coat. Yourchoice.”“I’ll take you up on that wager, James. And if you’re right?”“You, me, no kids, my parents cabin in the mountains for two weeks.”“We’ll be too old for such things by then, James.”“Doll, I’ll never be too old for that.”
When he was unable to find any work, Jefferson built himself a workbench which he placed in the oldbilliards room. There, he taught himself how to make simpler versions of the fancy toys and games hiscompany had produced for years. Though it often took him several tries to produce something that wasworthy of putting in front of one of his grandchildren, he focused on the fact that he was making sure thatthey had something to make their childhood as normal as possible, despite the grim circumstances inwhich they were growing up.
Nicky had asked his father if he could loan Alice some of his books, but James was reluctant to do so, ashe didn’t know much about Alice or her family. Instead, he told Nicky that he could invite Alice over asoften as he wanted so she could read the books there. Alice had readily agreed, though she tended to doso only on the warmer days, as she had a long walk home that felt longer in the thin garment that was allshe had to protect her from the winter weather.Nicky taught her to play chess, and even though Alice didn’t really care for the game she was to nice to sayso.
During those games of chess, Nicky learned more about Alice and where she came from. Her parents hada wheat farm in Simsas, and they’d sent her East to live with relatives because of the crop failure anddrought that their farm was facing. Alice, unlike her older siblings, wasn’t much help on the farm, and herparents worried about the effects of the dust in the air on her health. Alice found herself liking the East,especially the ocean, and she hoped that she’d be able to stay there even after the drought was over.In return, Nicky told Alice all about the woods around the house, and promised to show them to her oncewinter and its chill had passed. Alice had never climbed a tree before, and Nicky promised to teach her.
The family approved of Nicky’s friendship with Alice, mostly because she taught him games that took himaway from his constant obsession with books.
Marsha approved of her especially because she always acted like a little lady.
Marsha so approved of Alice that decided to do something to make it possible for the young girl to visit withher grandson more often. She found an old child’s cloak in the chest of clothing Jefferson brought downfrom the attic, and went to work.
One afternoon when Alice came over, there was something waiting for her on the sofa in the living room.“Nicky, what’s this?”“My Grandma made it for you. She took an old coat she found in the attic and reworked it. It’s not fancy oranything, but it’s made of wool so it will be warm. And then you’ll have a warm coat so we can play outsideat recess, and you can come visit no matter what it’s like outside.”“She didn’t have to do that.”“No, but she wanted to. Grandma likes doing nice things for nice people.”“I should thank her for such a nice present. Is she here?”“No, she’s at my Aunt Vi’s visiting her and Shirley.”
Alice threw her arms around Nicky.“Well, since she’s not here, I’ll give you a hug instead. You have to promise me that you’ll pass it on to herwhen she comes home.”Nicky, rather shocked by Alice’s sudden display of affection, could only reply “Okay,” as he returned thehug.“You’re family’s so nice, Nicky. I’m glad we’re friends.”“Me too.”
After Alice had gone home to show off her new coat, James found his way into the living room.“Well, did Alice like the coat?”Nicky nodded. “She gave me a hug to pass on to Grandma, since she wasn’t here.”James made a noise somewhere between a sigh and a groan. “Kid, you’re going to cost me a lot of moneyif you keep that up.”“Keep what up?”“Being too damned cute for your own good.”“I don’t know what you mean, Papa.”“Nicky,” James said, realizing that he’d probably said too much, “I promised your Mama something, and I’mstarting to understand that I got suckered into a bet that I can’t win. You really are good friends with Alice.”
Nicky’s face lit up. “She’s one of my best friends, Papa. I think I might like her better even than Rosalieand Shirley, but they’re family so I have to like them better.”All James could do was smile at his son’s innocence. “It’s a good thing I like Alice.”“How could you not like her, Papa? She’s so nice and she’s pretty smart and…”James stopped Nicky’s singing of Alice’s praises by ruffling his hair. “I get it, kid. She’s your perfectwoman. Now, you’ve got spelling to learn before school tomorrow. Hop to it.” *****
Over in Portsimouth, Phily Bradford Thayer, as she called herself, was resting before the big event of theday. Her grandson, Asher, was getting married to Vivian McClellan, and she wanted to be able tothoroughly enjoy the festivities. The winter’s day was warm as spring, and they’d elected to have theceremony in the rose garden as Victor and Jane had so many years ago.I can’t believe I lived long enough to see one of my grandchildren get married, she marveled. Imagine howhappy Meadow would be if she were here today.
Meadow would have been happy, had she been there to watch Asher and Vivian exchange vows and rings.The family who was there certainly was.
After the ceremony, Jane took to the piano so that the guests could enjoy a dance or two. After Asher haddance with his bride, he gave her hand to his father so that Victor could have a turn around the dance floorwith the new Mrs. Hutchins. Asher then turned to Phily, and made a dashing bow as he extending his handin an invitation.“Oh, Asher, I haven’t danced in ages,” she said. It was true. Phily, until her age had prevented it, hadalways been the musician for parties.“I’m sure you remember how to waltz,” the young man said. “You were the one who taught Mama how.”“Oh, all right,” Phily said as she slowly rose from her comfortable seat with the assistance of Asher.
“I’m glad you were able to see this day, Grandma Phily,” Asher said as they waltzed at a pace slightlyslower than the music.“So am I, Asher. I wish Meadow could have been here too.”“Oh, I’m sure she’s watching us from wherever she is, and I’m sure she’s thrilled for us.”Phily smiled at that thought, and how comforting it was. “You’re right, Asher. Those we love must stillknow of our happiness, even when they’re not longer with us.”
It was that thought that stuck with Phily into the next day. Somehow, she realized that her time was up,and that soon she would pass into the Great Beyond and be reunited with those she loved once more.Jane had clung to her mother when Phily confided the news to her.“It’s all right, Jane. You’ll see us again, and in the meantime you have your children and grandchildren tolook out for. Oh, I know there aren’t grandchildren yet, but there will be.”
Victor, never a man to show much emotion, simply asked Phily to tell his mother that he still missed her.“I’m certain Henri knows that, Victor, but I’ll tell her anyway.”It was at that moment that Asher came into the room, and his face fell when he realized what was going on.
“Are you certain, Grandma Phily?”“Asher, I never understood until today how Henri knew that her time was up. When it comes for you, youjust know.”“But…” he stuttered, “I had hoped that you’d get to meet your great-grandchild.”“I would have liked that too. But it’s just not meant to be.”
Phily found herself oddly at peace as she slipped into the next world. Her family was not nearly as tranquil,but did their best to remember that Phily was not really gone to them, and that they would see her againwhen it was their time to pass into the Great Beyond.
Phily was laid to rest in the Portsimouth Cemetery next to her beloved Meadow, and near her brother Alex,her dear friend Katie, and her sister Henri. Her passing marked the end of an era: the last of the fourthgeneration of Bradfords in Simerica was gone. *****
But where there are deaths and sadness, there are also happier events like birthdays. Rosalie Seiffcelebrated her transition into childhood.
Unlike her parents, Rosalie had an innate sense of propriety, and was a stickler for etiquette. She oftenfound it hard to make friends because there were so few children she felt she could associate with, and shespent far too much time criticizing those she did chose to pass time with.
And little Shirley Alcott, Sterling and Viola’s daughter, celebrated her birthday as well.
Shirley was almost the complete opposite of her cousin, and she was a complete tomboy. She wouldmuch rather spend her time playing ball with the boys or climbing trees, much to the distain of her cousinRosalie and the delight of Nicky, who relished his new playmate. *****
James sat in the office that had once been Russ’ until he’d turned the management of the speakeasy overto James. James had run it well, in his opinion. They’d always turned a good profit, and the police neverhad reason to suspect the old block of stores was anything more than that.All that would come to an end soon. Prohibition would soon be coming to an end. The 21st amendmenthad been passed by Congress, and it was only a matter of time until the proper number of states ratified it.When the proper number of states had ratified it, it would be law, though people would stop enforcingProhibition long before ratification. And that would be the end of his job.
There was a knock on the door, and it opened before James had the chance to invite the knocker in. It wasRuss. James hadn’t seen him recently, and he was shocked to see how much the man had aged.“James, my boy. How are you?”“Pretty good, sir,” James replied, rising from his seat. “Can I offer you something?”“Still respectful. A glass of your finest whisky, if you don’t mind.”James poured two glasses, and gestured for Russ to take a seat in the comfortable chairs in a corner ofthe room.
The men each took a seat and a sip of their drinks. Russ set his down, and James followed suit.“James, I’m sure you’ve been watching the news. The cushy little nest we’ve got here is about to beobsolete.”“I was just thinking that before you came in.”“Pity the government figured out they could makes some money by taxing booze once they made it legalagain. But we’ve had a good run here, haven’t we?”“I certainly can’t complain,” James admitted. “But it does make me worry about what comes next. I’vebeen the only breadwinner for my family for a while now, and I don’t relish the idea of the governmentputting me out of a job.”
“Very true,” Russ said. “Which is why I’m here today. Now, I know you’ve made your position on mybusiness empire pretty clear in the past, but I’m wondering if your opinion has changed at all in light recentdevelopments.James bought himself some time by taking another sip of his drink. He still didn’t believe in some of Russ’business models, but with his father out of work, he needed to keep a paycheck coming into the family.“To be honest, Russ, I still don’t agree with some of the ways you make money. However, you’re correct inassuming that things have changed to a degree.”“Meaning you’d agree to continue in my employ, but only if I give you something that you don’t object tomorally.”
“Correct,” James said. “I suppose I’m willing to venture into your gambling business, if that’s what it takesto make sure my family has what it needs.”Russ smiled in the way that always sent a chill running up and down James’ spine. “That’s very fortuitous,since that’s what I’m planning to do with this place once the booze trade goes south. It won’t take much totransform the place. The bar’ll stay – people get reckless with their money when they drink – but therestaurant employees and musicians will go.”“You’re just going to let them go?” James asked.“I’ll offer them positions in the organization,” Russ replied with a shrug. “If they refuse, it’s not my problem.”
James didn’t like how heartless Russ was being about the whole matter. If this was how he treated thosein his employ for years, what would happen when he no longer had use for James himself?“Of course,” James said aloud. “When will the transition take place?”“Before the end of the month. Since everyone knows that booze will be legal soon, no one’s bothering tostop people from selling it any longer. You can spread the word about the changes, and I’ll send people into start fixing the place up.”James nodded, trying to keep his expression neutral.Russ laughed. “Don’t look so glum, boy. Go home to your wife and things will look better in the morning.”
Russ got up and left without another word to James. The younger man shook his head; Russ was not aman of many words. James picked up the empty glasses and left them outside the door to his office;someone from the kitchen would come up to collect them for cleaning. He then grabbed his coat. It wastime for him to go home. He wasn’t sure what he was going to tell Cindy, let alone his parents. ThoughCindy would be supportive, his mother would likely not be.
Jefferson was still awake and reading the paper in the living room when James got home. He looked upwhen James passed through the foyer. He saw the look of defeat on his son’s face, and put the paperdown.“Come sit with me for a minute, James. You look exhausted.”“Thank,” James said as he sank down onto the sofa next to his father.
“Anything good in that?” James asked after a pause, nodding his head in the direction of the newspaper.“Of course not. People losing their homes, their jobs, and their lives. The only interesting piece was abouthow Portsimouth has to keep the streetlights lit all the time now, with the dust blowing in from the plains.”“It’s horrendous,” James sighed. “My mouth always has the taste of mud in it. Reminds me of the time thatTaddy dared me to eat a mud pie. Took me weeks to get rid of the grit between my teeth.”
Jefferson chuckled. “You look as if something’s on your mind, son. Anything you care to talk about withme?”James heaved a sigh as his shoulders slumped. “Have you ever had to do something that you didn’t wantto do, because you thought it was what was best for the family?”“You know that I did, son. Rather, I almost did.”James nodded. “Yeah, but you found an out just in time. I don’t think I’m going to be so lucky.”
“Does this have anything to do with impending repeal of Prohibition?”“It has everything to do with that. Russ, the owner of the speakeasy, came in today. He’s closing thespeakeasy as it is, and turning it into a gambling hall.”“Ah,” Jefferson said.“And he offered me the chance to run it, which means keeping an income coming into the house. But italso means that I’m taking money that could probably be used for something better than a hand or two ofpoker.”
“What are you going to do, James?”“I told him I’d take it, but now that I’ve thought about it for a while, I wish I’d said no. I only took it because Iknew we needed the money, but it just feels wrong. And if Mama hated me running a speakeasy, imaginewhat she’d have to say about this.”
“James, you can’t live your life based on what your mother thinks about it. Trust me on this one. But youdo have to do what you can live with. Can you live with the repercussions of your job?”James stared into the fireplace. “I don’t know what’s worse, Pops: the thought of taking money away fromother families who really need it, or the thought of not having the money to give my family the life and futurethey deserve.”Jefferson put his hand on James’ shoulder. “I can’t give you the answer to that son, as much as I’d like to.Lots of people are being forced to make tough choices nowadays. Whatever you decide, I’ll understand.”James managed a smile. “Can’t we go back to the days when our biggest worries were how late Taddy,Sterling and I could stay out playing ball?”
Jefferson managed to return James’ smile. “I wish we could, son. I really wish we could.”James’ smile melted back into the morose expression that he wore so often as of late. “As much as I hateit, I have to put the needs of my family before those of a hypothetical one. I’ll see if I can find somethingelse, but I have to keep working for Russ for now.”Jefferson nodded. “If that’s what you think you have to do, I’ll support you.”“Thanks, Pops.”
They sat quietly for a few moments before Jefferson rose.“I’m headed up to bed. You look tired, James. You should get some sleep yourself.”“I will. I just need a few more minutes.”“Good night, James.”“Good night, Papa.”
After Jefferson headed upstairs, James rose and poked at the fireplace for a moment. He still wasn’tcompletely happy with his decision, but there was some comfort in the fact that his father was supportinghim. He knew that Cindy would – she very rarely questioned anything he decided. But he knew that hismother would be a different matter entirely. If she had thought his running the speakeasy was “immoral,unethical, and illegal,” he could only imagine what she’d have to say about his running a gambling hall.Her words from their argument echoed in his brain.“How would you explain what you do to your son?”He hoped that he’d never have to do that.He leaned against the mantle and groaned. “What kind of a man am I?”
A small voice answered from behind him. “I think you’re a good man, Papa.”
James spun around to see Nicky standing in the doorway. James quickly rearranged his face to a morepleasant expression and went to kneel before his son.“Hey, you’re supposed to be tucked in bed, sound asleep.”Nicky bit his lip, a nervous habit he’d picked up from his mother. “I was, but I heard you come home, and Iwaited and waited for you to come up and kiss me goodnight. I didn’t feel like waiting anymore.”
James smiled and ruffled the hair on Nicky’s head. “I’m sorry. I was talking with Grandpa about somegrown up stuff, and I lost track of the time.”“Why where you asking what kind of man you were, Papa?”“Because, Nicky, I have to do something that I’m not proud of, and I don’t like it.”Nicky’s eyes got a little bigger. “I thought being grown up meant you didn’t have to do things you didn’tlike.”James suppressed the urge to laugh. “Unfortunately, little man, grownups have to do a lot of things theydon’t like.”
“Are you worried about money again, Papa?”James raised an eyebrow. He’d done his best to keep his worries about money away from Nicky’s ears,but the boy somehow always knew about things he shouldn’t.“A little, but it’s not something you should think about.”“But I want to help, Papa.”“And I appreciate that, Nicky. But the best thing you can do to help me is to enjoy being a kid. You’ll haveto worry about the responsibilities of being a grown up soon enough.”“But Papa…”
“No ‘buts’, young man; it’s way past your bedtime. Your mama will have my hide if she finds out I let youstay up this late.”“You’re going to tuck me in, right?”“Of course I am. Now scoot upstairs. I just need to damp the fire down, and I’ll be right up.”
As James tucked his son into bed that night, he marveled at how kind a boy his son was. He’d certainlygotten his temperament from his mother. The thought made James burst with pride. Perhaps Nicky’skindness would lead him into something that would make up for some of his sins. *****
Midway through the winter season, Cindy awoke to the pains of labor. This time, however, something wasdifferent.
“Marsha,” she grimaced between pains, “Something doesn’t feel right about this.”“I‘ll ‘phone for the doctor and be right back for you, Cindy,” the older woman said.
Marsha had dialed the doctor’s office, and he would soon arrive. Cindy’s cries had caught Nicky’sattention, and he came to see what all the commotion was about.“Grandma? What’s wrong?”
“Oh, Nicholas! Thank goodness. I need you to do something very important for me. Your mama’s goingto have the baby, and I need you to go to the clearing in the woods and find your Papa and Grandpa, andtell them. Make as much noise as you can, because I don’t want them to fall a tree on you by accident.”Nicky’s eyes grew big when he realized the importance of the errand he was going on. “I’ll run as fast as Ican, Grandma,” he promised. He then hurried down the stairs, pausing only long enough to put on his coatbefore he ran out the door.
James and Jefferson made it home just in time to see what all the fuss was about. The reason Cindy hasfelt that something was different was very clear – she had given birth to twins, a girl and boy. Both childrenhad their mother’s eyes, and the girl who they named Dorothy, was fairer skinned than her brother, Daniel.The real surprise was that both children had red hair, courtesy of the their great-grandmother Jan. Timewould only tell who their personalities favored, but everyone was thrilled with the new additions to thefamily.
Dotty and Danny, as the two quickly became known as, were adorable but quite a handful. But withJefferson, Marsha, and Cindy all home, they managed, and James spent as much time with the babies ashe could. It was easier to forget he worries when he was blowing raspberries on a chubby baby belly.
This time around, Cindy could barely be dragged out of the nursery. There were still some things that shewas uncertain about; after all, she’d pretty much missed Nicky’s babyhood. But this time, she asked forhelp, and Marsha, so pleased at Cindy’s willingness to learn, had answered questions kindly, andencouraged her daughter-in-law. All in all, the nursery was the happiest room in the house.
Marsha had good reason to be happy that winter. In addition to Dotty and Danny, she also had Viola andSterling’s new son, Howard, to dote on. Howard had his parents’ brown hair and Marsha’s own greeneyes, and was the center of attention in the Alcott household.
And her youngest son, Cyrus, had become a father as well. He and his wife Georgianna had alsowelcomed a son who they named Frederick. He had his father’s brown hair and his mother’s dark browneyes and fair skin.
To further add to the excitement, Taddy and Calla welcomed a blond-haired, blue-eyed son they namedGilbert.
When you added the weddings of Raymond Hutchins and Mildred Langerak and William Eldon Bear andOctavia Hutchins to the mix, it was easy to forget all the bad things going on in the world. *****
“Nicky, what are you doing?” Jefferson asked as he walked into the study.“Well, Grandpa, I’ve read all the books on the shelves I can reach. I need something new to read.”Jefferson quickly crossed the room, and picked his grandson off the sofa he was balancing on to reach theupper shelves of the bookcase.
“Aw, Grandpa,” the boy whined. “I just wanted to find a new book.”“Next time, please ask. Some of those books aren’t suitable for a boy your age, and there are others thatare very old and need to be handled carefully.”“How old?”“Over a hundred years. Some of them belonged to John Bradford, the man who built this house when hecame here from Simland.”“Wow,” Nicky breathed. “Can I see one of them? I promise to be careful.”
“Alright,” Jefferson replied. “But you have to promise me not to touch these books without me or yourfather present.”Nicky’s head bobbed up and down quickly, and Jefferson pulled one of the books off the top shelf. He tookit over to the desk, and Nicky hurried over to the chair.“Your great-grandfather was a doctor, Nicky, and this was one of his reference books. Now, I’m sure muchof the information in here is outdated, but I imagine John used this quite a bit.”
Nicky’s eyes grew bigger as Jefferson slowly turned the pages to reveal different diagrams and instructionsfor dealing with maladies and injuries.“Grandpa John must have been a very smart man to know all this,” he marveled.“I suppose so,” Jefferson said. “He certainly was noted for being a hard worker. Back then, they didn’thave a school for prospective doctors to go to like they do now. He apprenticed with someone in town untilhe’d gained enough experience to go out on his own.”
Nicky studied one of the diagrams intently for a moment. “They have a special school for doctors?”“Yes. In fact, one of them is attached to SimHarvard. It’s rather prestigious.”“Do you think that maybe I could be a doctor, Grandpa?”Jefferson looked at Nicky. “I don’t see why not, if you don’t mind studying hard and a few more years ofschool after college.”
Nicky’s face grew serious. “But doctors help people, like the doctor helped Mama when the babies came.”“Yes, they do. But it’s not all happiness, Nicky. Sometimes, even the best doctors can’t help people, andthey don’t make it.”Nicky nodded. “But they have a better chance if they’ve got a good doctor to help them.”“I can’t argue with that.”
Nicky’s blue eyes stared into Jefferson’s. “Then I’ve made my mind up. I’m going to be a doctor, just likeGrandpa John. I’m going to help lots and lots of people and make Papa and Mama real proud of me.”“If that’s what you want, we’ll all help you achieve that goal. But remember that your parents will be proudof you no matter what you do.”“I know, Grandpa. But I think they’ll be even prouder of me when I’m Doctor Nicky Bradford.”“You might want to go by Nick or Nicholas for that – it sounds much more professional.”Nicky nodded. “Doctor Nicholas Bradford does sound better.”And Jefferson could not disagree with his grandson. *****
Sterling and James stepped out of the front door of the Simmont Hotel. Their lunch meeting had beenSterling’s idea; he’s stopped by the old speakeasy-turned-gambling hall and pulled James away, claimingthat he needed a break. Bobby, one of the few employees still around after the changeover, had agreed tokeep an eye on things, and James had reluctantly followed his friend to one of the ritzier parts of the city.Before the market crash, Sterling, Taddy and James had often lunched in the dining room of the upscalehotel. But lately, James and Taddy hadn’t been able to afford it, and Sterling, like many of those who stillhad money, pretended he didn’t. But today, he’d been willing to make an exception in the name ofcheering up his best friend.
As the Depression worsened, a new batch of criminals was gaining notoriety. Things were particularly badin the Midwestern portion in the country, and the bank robbers and kidnappers were as famous as theSimmywood actors and actresses that graced the movie theater screens. Branded as “Public Enemies” bythe newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation, the general population was intrigued by this new brandof criminal. John Simlinger, George “Simmyface” Nelson, and Bonnie Simker and Clyde Barsim were allover the newsreels and papers.The specifically targeted the people and institutions that most people blamed for the current state of theeconomy: the banks, and the wealthy. Consequently, most of those who still had money acted as if theydid not to protect themselves. So far, Portsimouth had avoided much of the violence, but everyone was onedge, worried that it could start at any time.
“Thanks again for lunch, Sterling,” James said as he buttoned his coat against the cold. “I needed that.”“I thought you did. That place is no good for you, James. You need to get out of it.”“I would if I could, Sterling. But you know the situation I’m in.”Sterling nodded glumly. “I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for you. Hopefully something comes up.”“I appreciate it.”
As the crossed the plaza in front of the hotel, a somewhat disheveled looking man approached them.“’Scuse me, misters. Spare some change for a man down on his luck?”James reached into his pocket, but came out with nothing; he’d taken to not carrying any cash with himwhen wandered around the city for just this reason. Sterling handed the man a few coins, but he had nomoney with him either, as he’d had the bill for their lunch sent to his law offices as he always did.
“I’m sorry I don’t have more,” Sterling apologized.The man glared at Sterling, his face twisting into a sneer.“Sure you don’t,” he spat, throwing the coins back at Sterling. “None of you fat cats do. You spent it all onyour fancy cars and expensive clothes and big houses while the rest of us don’t have enough to feed ourfamilies. Well screw you! I’ma get mine, one way or the other!”
The man reached into his coat, and James saw the flash of sunlight on metal. The fact that the metal wasa gun barely had time to register before he felt Sterling’s body collide into his, and the bang of the gun as itwent off.
The surrounding crowd let out screams and shouts as the two men tumbled to the ground. James slowlypushed Sterling off of himself, and got up to see a police officer restraining them man with the assistance ofa bystander. A woman, who looked rather grey, was sitting on the edge of one of the fountains attended byanother man.James rubbed his shoulder; it had been the first thing to connect with the paved stones on the plaza in thefront of the hotel.“Good reaction time there, Sterling. I’m glad one of us still has our shortstop reaction time.”Sterling didn’t reply, except to make a noise that could only be described as a groan.
James turned to see his best friend clutching at his chest. His hand was red, and that same red was slowlyspreading its way across Sterling’s jacket.“Damn it! Help! I need some help here! He’s been shot!”
James leaned over and pressed his hands firmly on the wound, trying to stop the bleeding.“Someone please help me!”“James,” Sterling muttered, his voice weak and raspy, “Promise me…”“Sterling Alcott, you listen to me because I’m only going to say this once. If you die on me here, I’m goingto drag you back from the great beyond and kill you myself. So no deathbed promises, you understand?”
A pair of well-shined shoes came into James’ line of sight. “I’m Officer Brady. Sir, we’ve got a police carwaiting to take your friend to the hospital. It’s not far at all, and we’ll get him there as quick as possible.Are you okay to help me carry him?”James nodded. “We should hurry; it looks like he’s losing a lot of blood. You hear that, Sterling? We’retaking you to the hospital, and we’re going to get you fixed up. You hang in there. You hang in there.”
James sat in the corner of the small waiting area, running the events of the past few hours through hishead. Why hadn’t he seen it coming? He’d always been the one with the keen instincts. Why hadn’t thatman triggered them? If it hadn’t been for Sterling’s razor sharp reflexes, he might have been the one in thesurgical theater with a bullet in his chest. If anything happened to Sterling…well, James didn’t want to thinkabout that. It was bad enough to think about the possibility of losing his best friend; it was even worse tothink about the fact that his brother-in-law might be dying and his sister on the verge of becoming a widow.
The door opened and James turned his head just enough to see Victor Hutchins walk through it. For amoment, James wondered what the older man was doing there; even though he was his godfather, firstcousin once removed, and the closest family he had in Portsimouth, there was no real reason for him to bethere. Then James remembered that Victor worked for the police department. He would have heard aboutthe shooting that way.“Hey, Uncle Victor,” James said.“Hello, James. Are you all right?”
James nodded as he gestured for Victor to take the chair next to him. “I thought you had retired,” Jamessaid by way of making conversation.“Well, that was the plan,” Victor chuckled. “But with the crime increase we’ve seen lately, the departmentneeded as much experience as they could get. I figure I’ll keep at this for a little while longer at least.Now, I know you’ve already told one of the officers what happened, but I’d like to hear it from youfirsthand.”
James sighed. The last thing he wanted to do was relive the events of the afternoon. But as Victor washigh up in the department ranks, he really didn’t have a choice.“We were coming out of the Simmont Hotel after lunch, and this man approached us, asking for money.I’ve stopped carrying it; it’s easier to ignore the pleas when you know you don’t have anything in yourpocket. Sterling had the bill sent to his office, so he didn’t have money and just gave the fellow a few coinshe had. The guy snapped, yelled at us, and pulled a gun out of his coat. I’m not sure what happened fromthere exactly. Sterling shoved me down, the gun went off, and I heard people screaming. When I got up, Isaw that Sterling had been shot. I yelled for help, and did my best to stop the bleeding. Then one of yourofficers offered to take Sterling to the hospital, and we came here.”
Victor nodded. “It’s not uncommon for victims to forget details of a crime. Luckily, there were severalwitnesses, and we have the man in custody. It looks like you boys were simply in the wrong place at thewrong time.”“Tell that to my sister or Sterling’s parents,” James muttered.“James, this is not your fault. Crime is on the rise everywhere. There’s nothing you could have done.”“It sure doesn’t feel that way.”
“He’s one of your best friends and your brother-in-law. Of course you feel responsible for him. Is there anyword on how he’s doing?”James shook his head. “They took him right into the operating theater, and I haven’t heard anything since Igot here.”“Did someone look at you?”James nodded. “I’m going to have one hell of a bruise on my shoulder and hip tomorrow, but that’s theworst of it.”
Victor chuckled. “Now James, don’t be mad at me, but when I heard what happened I ‘phoned yourparents, and asked them to break it to Viola and get her here.”James let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you. I was dreading that. Vi…well, she’s got a bit of a temper.”“I remember that,” Victor said. Now, I’ll sit here and wait with you for a while, at least until one of thedoctors comes out.”“You don’t have to do that, Uncle Victor.”“I know I don’t have to, James. But I want to.”
At that moment, the door to the hospital ward opened, and the doctor stepped out. “Are you folks waitingfor news on Sterling Alcott?”James nodded, feeling his muscles tense in anticipation of what the doctor would say.
“He’s resting right now. The bullet went straight through him, and the wound was relatively clean. He’llneed to stay overnight so we can keep an eye on him, but baring an infection he should be fine.”“Are you sure? There was so much blood…” James said.The doctor nodded. “Oh, he’ll need to take it easy for a few weeks until he’s fully healed, but I expect acomplete recovery.”James and Victor sighed in relief, though James’ was much more audible. “Thank you.”
James had been pacing the small waiting room, waiting for his sister’s arrival. He kept repeating what thedoctor has said in his head: the wound was a clean one, and the doctors believed that barring an infection,Sterling would be fine.Viola burst through the door, her hat askew and her gloves missing. “Where is he?”
James took a step forward and rested his hands gently on her shoulders. “He’s resting. The doctorspatched him up, and he’ll be able to go home first thing in the morning.”“How did it happen?”“We were on our way out of the Simmont Hotel; we’d gone in for lunch, his treat.”
“Why in God’s name would you go there for lunch? You know that’s where all the people who still havemoney go! That’s just asking for trouble.”“It wasn’t my idea,” he snapped. “It was your husband’s.”“You didn’t have to go along with it,” she retorted. “What happened from there?”He raked his hand through his hair. “This guy stopped us, asked if we could spare something so he couldfeed his family. I didn’t have any money on me, and Sterling just had a few coins. They guy got upset,started yelling at us about how we millionaires had fouled up the country for folks like him. Then hereached into his coat, pulled out a pistol, and said he was going to get his one way or another. I couldn’treact fast enough. The gun went off, and Sterling fell to the ground. Luckily, there was a cop right aroundthe corner, and he came running before the gunman could think.”
He paused for breath, and she glared at him. “He could have been killed.”“Yes, but he wasn’t. You should count your blessings.”“What would I have done if he had? What would our children have done?”“The family would have taken care of you, and the children. You know that.”“Really? Seems to me that all you think about these days is yourself. I know about your job, and I knowhow our parents feel about it.”
“I’m doing what I have to do to make sure I can feed my kids. As soon as things turn around, I’ll find honestwork.”“And in the meantime, you’re exposing all of us to danger.”“Hey! What happened today has nothing to do with what I do for a living. You know that violence isincreasing all across the country.”“Violence against those who still have money, which you pretended to be by going to a ritzy hotel to eat.Why would you do such a stupid thing?”“I already told you. It was Sterling’s idea.”
“I don’t care! Your lifestyle is too dangerous now. I want you to stay away from my family.”“But you’re my sister. You are my family! And Sterling’s one of my best friends. You have no right to keepus apart.”“I don’t want you anywhere near me, my husband, or my children. Is that clear?”James’ shoulders dropped. Viola had always been like this when she was mad, and he knew fromexperience that she would be more reasonable when she wasn’t in the middle of a fit of temper.“Fine,” he agreed. “Are you okay to get home?”She nodded stiffly. “Goodbye.”
He turned with a silent sigh and went through the door she had come through just moments before. Hehoped that he was right, and that once Viola calmed down, things would be right between them again. Buthe couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that his sister would never be able to fully forgive him for being therewhen Sterling had been shot.
As James crossed into the lobby, he saw his parents standing there, looking anxious.“Is he…” Jefferson asked.“He’s fine. I’m fine. You should go in and be with Viola.”“You come with us, James,” Marsha said. “Viola needs her family.”James snorted. “She made it very clear that she doesn’t want me near her or her family. I’m going home.No,” he said, when Marsha made a movement like she was going to protest. “Ask her about it, Mama. I’mgoing home.”
James had caught the train back to Simsfield, and walked from the station to his house. It was dark, andthere were few lights on in the house. He felt bad about Cindy being left alone with Nicky and the twins forso long, and he quickened his step.
Cindy was sitting in the living room in her robe when James opened the door. She flew up from her seatand threw her arms around James, nearly knocking him over in the process.
“Hey, it’s all right,” he said, as he felt her hot tears seep through the fabric of his shirt to burn his skin.“I was so worried. I know Victor said that you were okay, but…”“Shh,” he said, tightening his arms around her and gently rocking her as he did the twins. “Other than afew bruises, I’m okay.”
They stood in the dark foyer, locked in each other’s arms until Cindy’s silent sobs slowed and ceased.“I’m sorry,” she said, stepping back and wiping her eyes. “I’m usually not so emotional.”He smoothed her hair. “It was a tough day all around. How are the kids?”“They’re okay. Nicky was a huge help today. He kept the twins entertained while I finished supper. I tellyou James, that boy was born a grown up all ready.”“What did you tell them?”“That Uncle Sterling got hurt, and Grandma and Grandpa had to take Auntie Vi to see him.”
James sighed. “Vi’s pretty steamed with me.”Cindy looked at James, puzzled.“She blames me,” he said simply, answering her unspoken question.“But that’s…”“Doesn’t matter if it makes sense or not, doll. She needs someone to blame, and that someone’s me.”
James took Cindy’s hand and gently tugged her up the stairs.“What does it mean?” she asked.“Well, she told me to stay away from her family. I just hope that she doesn’t keep Shirley away from Nicky;she, and the infamous Alice, are the only ones who can drag him away from his books.”“I’m sure she’ll calm down after a while.”James chuckled darkly. “See, that’s the big difference between Vi and me. My temper is explosive, butonce I’m done yelling everything’s fine. Hers burns low and slow and for a long time. Once she makes anenemy…”“You’re her brother, James; she’ll come around.”“I hope you’re right, doll. I hope you’re right.” *****
Nicky Bradford was puzzled. He’d bounded into school that morning, just barely ahead of the bell, andhurried to find his seat before the teacher could mark him tardy. He’d waved to Alice, Rosalie and Shirley,since he wasn’t able to say hi to them before school started as he usually did. Alice had returned the waveheartily, while Rosalie had nodded with a slightly disapproving look at his overt enthusiasm. Shirley, on theother hand, hadn’t acknowledged his greeting, which was very unusual for her. Of his cousins, Nicky spentthe most time with Shirley, because Rosalie loathed anything she deemed improper. Shirley, on the otherhand, was game for most things, and frequently her ideas were crazier than Nicky’s.
When school broke for morning recess, Nicky scooted over to Shirley’s desk.“What’s wrong? Why didn’t you wave back this morning?”Shirley tried to make herself as small in her chair as she possibly could. “Mama says I’m not supposed totalk to you anymore, Nicky. I’m sorry.”“Oh,” he said, not sure of what to say beyond that. “I’ll leave you alone, I guess. I don’t want you to getinto trouble.”
Nicky walked back to his desk, ignoring the sympathetic looks he was getting from Alice and Rose. He satquietly for the rest of the day, and didn’t even volunteer to answer questions as he usually did. At the endof the day, he gathered up his things and headed straight home, instead of hanging around reading a bookwith Alice as was the norm.
Cindy was the first to notice that Nicky was home earlier than usual. He plopped down on the floor in theliving room in front of the fire as he usually did and began working on his homework. Cindy found excusesto wander in and out of the room at intervals, hoping that Nicky would say something to her.
When she went in on the pretense of winding the grandfather clock, Nicky glanced up.“Mama, was I bad?”“Not that I know of, Nicky. Why do you ask?”He put his homework down and sighed. “Shirley said that her mama said that she’s not allowed to talk tome anymore. I didn’t want to ask her why and get her in trouble for talking to me.”
Cindy suppressed the urge to sigh. “Nicky, trust me when I tell you that it has nothing to do with you.Auntie Vi’s a little mad at your father right now, and I guess you and Shirley are getting caught in the middleof it. I’m sorry about that.”“Did Papa do something wrong?”“Not really, but your Auntie Vi thinks he did.”Nicky nodded. “So maybe Shirley will be able to talk to me again?”“I hope so. Now, go upstairs and get washed up. Dinner will be ready soon.”Nicky scurried away to do as he was told, and Cindy gently shook her head as she watched him do so.She’d have to talk to James, and see if there was something he could do. Nicky had so few friends as itwas; she hated the thought of being kept away from one of them.
Later that night, James volunteered to take the blanket that Marsha had knitted for Frederick over to Cyrusand Georgianna’s. He’d really done it because he wanted the chance to speak with his brother about thesituation with Viola.Cyrus invited him inside, but didn’t offer to take his coat. Sensing that his window of opportunity was short,James got right to the point.
“Cyrus, will you talk to Viola for me? I don’t mind if she’s mad at me, but when she tells Shirley to stayaway from Nicky I have to intervene somehow. They’re good friends, and it’s not fair to him.”Cyrus rubbed the back of his neck. “James, it’s not my place to tell Viola how to raise her kids. She hasthe right to say who they can and can’t take spend time with.”“So you’re taking her side?”
“There’s not really sides, James. Whether or not they’re valid, Viola’s entitled to her opinions. Yes, I’msorry that Nicky’s getting caught in the middle of it, but it’s not my place.”“So you agree with her that I’m too dangerous?”“I didn’t say that. But you are involved with some dangerous people. I know what happened to Sterlinghad nothing to do with what you do, but it feels like it was a warning of some sort. By doing what you do,you’re inviting trouble.”
“It’s not really like I have a choice, Cyrus. I’m doing my job and making sure my family’s taken care of.”Cyrus glared at James. “That’s hitting below the belt, brother.”“Sorry. I forget sometimes...”“Must be nice. Look, James. Let’s call this a draw for tonight, before we both say things we’ll regret.”James sighed. “Fine. Just…if she starts to come around, keep her going, okay?”Cyrus nodded. “Goodnight, James.”“Night, Cyrus.”
Whether or not Cyrus did talk to Viola, her resolve that her family stay away from James’ did not waiver.Shirley passed her days playing with Walter Gavigan, as she was too rambunctious for the likes of hercousin Rosalie and the other girls. Nicky gravitated towards Alice, though he often looked at Shirleywistfully.
“You miss playing with your cousin, don’t you?” Alice asked one afternoon when they were enjoying thewarm sunshine at recess.“I like playing with you, Alice,” he replied.“Just because you like playing with me doesn’t mean that you can’t miss playing with Shirley.”Nicky nodded. “We were supposed to build a fort this spring. It just doesn’t seem fair that her mama’spunishing me because she’s made at my papa. I didn’t do anything wrong.”Nicky jumped off of the swing and began walking away, and Alice followed him.
“Nicky wait,” Alice called.The boy paused so Alice could catch up with him.“I know it’s not the same, but I’ll help you build your fort this spring. And we can play catch and stuff too,‘cause I know you like it. I can’t take Shirley’s place, but we can do some of the stuff you guys used to dotogether.”“But you don’t really like a lot of that stuff,” he protested.“But I like you. So as long as we still play quiet games and read books, we can do some more boyishthings too.”Nicky’s face lit up. “Can we play catch now? I have a ball in my desk.”
Alice wasn’t very good at catch, but Nicky appreciated her willingness to fill the hole left when Shirley’sfriendship was taken away from him. Still, he hoped that Papa and Auntie Vi could make nice so that heand Shirley could be playmates again. *****
Things hadn’t changed by the time the twins were due to celebrate their toddler birthdays. Instead of alarge family affair, it was just the household that gathered. Cyrus and Georgianna had sent their regrets,claiming that they couldn’t find anyone to watch Frederick, and Viola had sent the invitation backunopened. Still, they tried to make the day as festive as possible, and Marsha had even splurged andbaked a cake for each of the babies, despite the extravagance.
James took charge of Danny, and Cindy held Dotty as they helped the twins blow out their candles.
Dotty turned out to have a personality exactly like her father’s: neat, active, and playful but with a temperthat resulted in epic tantrums. Danny was very similar, but he was not nearly as active and preferred sittingin front of one of his toys to exploring the upstairs of the house with his sister.
Howard Alcott, Sterling and Viola’s son, celebrated his birthday too. Viola was still sticking to her resolvethat James and his family needed to stay away from hers, so she didn’t invite them, or even her parents.Sterling had tried to sway her to at least invite Howard’s grandparents, but she remained firm. So the partywent on without them, though it certainly didn’t feel like a party.
Howard turned out to have his father’s nose and mouth. Personality wise, he was almost the exactopposite of his sister, being messy, lazy, playful, and nice.
Gilbert Seiff celebrated his birthday as well, and he had a party that was attended by all of his extendedfamily.
Little Gilbert favored his father in features, with his nose and mouth. He was exactly like his sister: messy,shy, active, and playful but with a mean streak.
And Frederick Bradford celebrated his birthday as well.
He grew up into a sturdy tot who favored his father in features. Personality wise, he was a mixed bag butthe most shocking aspects were how shy and temperamental he was. He was neat and playful like hisfather, and active like his mother. *****
The rather cryptic note had piqued James’ interest. It had arrived in the mail, addressed to him in blockletters, and asked him to go to the general store on Tuesday night at about 8 o’clock. James had no ideawho had written or sent it, but for some unknown reason, he decided to go.He’d told the family that he was meeting Taddy for a drink at the tavern, not wanting to hear protests aboutthe potential stupidity of his true errand. It was a warm night for winter, but he still hurried his step.Whatever he was walking into, he wanted to get it over with.
The store was dark, except for a faint glow from one of the upstairs windows. James knocked on the door,waiting to see who would answer it.
A moment later, James smiled when the door opened.“Sterling!”“It’s good to see you too, James,” Sterling replied as James hugged him and repeatedly pounded on hisback. “Why don’t you come inside and we can talk.”
The two men went into the store and up the stairs to the space that served as storage and office. Sterlingsat down at the old fashioned desk, and James took the only other chair in the room. At first, they juststared at each other, with stupid grins on their faces. James was the one to break the silence.“Why meet here? I mean, your house is right over there. Aren’t you worried that Vi will see, or has sherelented yet?”“This is my family’s store, James. It was given to my grandfather by his stepfather. And I’m not reallyworried about what Viola says. She hasn’t changed her mind yet, but this has gone on long enough.”
“I forgot that. But you and your father are lawyers…”“Yes. Papa couldn’t bear to sell the store, so since Grandpa passed we’ve hired someone to manage thestore. Unfortunately, I just had to fire the last man we employed. When I was reviewing the books, Idiscovered that he was stealing from the store. Poor guy was just trying to support his family, and if he’dasked I would have helped him. But I can’t tolerate thievery, so I had to fire him and turn him over to thepolice. I’ve been helping out her for the past few weeks while I’ve been recovering, as it’s close to home.”James nodded. “So, you’re okay?”
Sterling laughed. “Yes, I’m fine. I’ve got a pretty nifty looking scar on my shoulder, though. Viola waspretty overbearing at first, insisting I stay in the hospital for a few extra days to make sure things were fine.Then she had me on bed rest for what felt like a year.”“I’m glad. I was really worried about you. I felt like it was all my fault.”“It wasn’t. Blame the crazy guy who thought brandishing a gun would solve all his problems. I don’t blameyou.”“Viola does.”
“Ah, Viola,” Sterling said. “That’s part of the reason I wanted to talk with you. I know she’s just worriedabout her family, but she’s acting irrationally. No one can talk any sense into her about this.”“I don’t mind so much that she’s steamed at me, but when she keeps Nicky and Shirley apart…”“Yeah. Shirley’s feeling it too, though she’s too smart to complain. She’s been off the wall at home,without Nicky to burn the excess energy off with. So I decided it’s time to do something about it.”“And that is?”
“Simple. Viola’s main objection is that your work puts you in contact with dangerous people. You just needa new job, and she loses all the footing for her argument.”“Do you really think it’s that simple, Sterling? Do you realize that it’s nearly impossible to find work?Something like a quarter of the country’s unemployed right now.”Sterling had a grin on his face that boarderlined on a smirk. “Well, James, it just so happens that I’m inneed of a clerk for the store.”
James mouth gapped. “You want to hire me? Won’t that just set Vi off?”“Probably. I’m sure I’ll be making good friends with the sofa in the study soon. But it all makes sense.You need a safer job, and I need someone reliable to run the store. I know I can trust you to run things. Idon’t know if I can match what you’re making right now…”James put up his hand. “Honestly, Sterling, I’d happily take a pay cut if it meant getting out of thathellhole.”Sterling nodded. “I figured as much. I saw how much that place was wearing on you.”
“So, when do you need me to start?”“As soon as possible. Do you think you’ll have trouble leaving the old place?”James shook his head. “Russ’ll just turn it over to someone else; people are interchangeable to him. I’ll lethim know I want to speak with him, and let him know Friday will be my last day.”“Excellent. Provided things go as planned, you can start Monday. And James, thanks. This is a bigweight off my mind.”“I’m the one who should be thanking you. I owe you one, Sterling.”“Keep a bed in your house turned down for me, just in case Viola ends up being madder about this than I’manticipating.”“You know our door’s always open for you.”
*************************************************************************************************************************That brings us to the conclusion of Chapter 24. Goodbye, Phily. You’ll be greatly missed.Next time, we have teenagers to look forward to, seeing Viola’s reaction to Sterling’s plan, and whether ornot Viola will ever stop being angry at her brother.The Depression Era restrictions have certainly made things interesting, but not too hard. I’m lookingforward to seeing how they continue to play out over the next rotation and a half.You can leave comments on the Bradford Legacy thread at Boolprop, on my Live Journal, or on myDreamwidth, whichever you prefer. Until next time!