Elephants in the Museum

“The gentleman there. He’s your grandfather?”

“Well.” While observing the relaxed jauntiness of the gray-haired man walking toward him, Scott caught himself assuming the posture of a befuddled spectator - hands on hips. cocked head, furrowed brow, squinting eyes. “Yes. Although, I’ll admit… I’m not yet fully committed to that answer.” A side glance discovered Westcott in a similar stance. “The woman. She’s -”

“My mother.” Seth leaned slightly forward from the waist for a closer view of the approaching woman. “At least I think she’s my mother. The pleasant expression on her face is throwing me off a bit.”

Smiling Cobra. Beacon Hill Rattler. The private visitation of the implying nicknames to Scott’s thoughts nudged out a nod of acknowledgment. “Understood. I’m also sensing a significant slant in the universe.”

Spying Harlan’s hand wave of anticipated recognition while he and Roberta maneuvered through the crowd, Scott returned the gesture with reservations. The last visit between grandfather and grandson had ended on a sour note.

Sour note? Quite the understatement. Torching The Boston Music Hall better described the two men’s parting of ways. Months later, a few sarky postscript lines poking at Scott’s lack of communication were delivered with Kinsey’s game of croquet.

Be so kind as to inform my grandson his correspondences have never reached Boston. I'm certain it’s due to the mailbag’s frigid surrender to frostbite in the Rocky Mountains or its inadequate backstroke while crossing the muddy waters of the Mississippi River.

Words which led to what the little cousin called stubborn silence between two mules.

“Oh, Harlan, wait.” Roberta’s hand squeezed her escort’s arm, pausing the couple a few feet short of their intended destination. “Let’s take a moment to admire our impressive handiwork displayed on these two fine young men standing before us.”

The mention of displayed handiwork prompted Scott’s eyes to confirm one of Teresa’s embroidered hankies hadn’t been tucked in his coat’s chest pocket as a distinguished haberdashery accessory.

“Yes, Roberta. Fine indeed.” Harlan politely untangled himself from his travel companion’s grasp. “Scotty.” Arms stretched wide to receive the wayward grandson. “It’s been too long.”

“Sir.” Not ready to completely brush aside harsh words of the past, Scott donned a respectable smile and an extended welcoming hand. “Time gathered more than it should have. It’s good to see you. I pray your trip went well.”

“A good journey rewarding this old soul with an overdue reunion.” Seeing a warm homecoming embrace was not to be, the elder Garrett accepted Scott’s formal greeting between men with both of his hands.

A hint of disapproval at the degree of displayed decorum twitched the corners of Roberta’s lips before she turned to her son. “I wish to say I for one did not travel across this vast country for a gentlemanly fáilte from my only child.”

“No, ma’am. I suspect you didn’t.” Donning a smile of resignation, Westcott stepped forward and, placing hands on his mother’s shoulders, delivered the briefest of kisses to her flawlessly rouged cheek. “Welcome …” The word, having no pier such as home to drop anchor, sunk awkwardly between the matriarch and her offspring.

“Mrs. Westcott. A pleasure.” Scott stepped in with a tug on his hat brim and nod, throwing a much needed verbal Kisbee ring to his drowning business partner. “Seth has mentioned you many times in our discussions.”

A laced-gloved hand of etiquette presented itself along with Roberta’s smile. “As I’m sure you have done with the same reverence when mentioning your grandfather. Yes?” An observance was made. “And where is this little thief who steals my son’s heart?”

“A given gift can’t be stolen, mother.”

“My cousin was gracious enough to allow Seth and I a quiet evening of private reminiscing with you both in order to catch up before family celebrations consume the weeks ahead.” Never judge Roberta by her smile but by her eyes, windows to the soul. Phillip Westcott’s insight concerning his daughter-in-law knocked on Scott’s door and let itself in.

When contemplating the shape of a snake’s pupils, most minds draw an elliptical. However, God permitted the cobra to choose a round shape for its window to the soul. Completing introduction formalities, Scott watched as the rounded pupils of Kinsey’s future mother-in-law dusked and dilated above face-powder-induced perfection.

Stockton’s recently built Yosemite House was considered to be the city’s finest hotel. For convenience and a touch of luxury, several horse-drawn omnibuses were employed to transport guests from the railroad depot to the hotel’s 200 rooms while their dining venue sported a reputation of outstanding service and world-class cuisine. It was an easy decision for the two young men when selecting acceptable overnight accommodations for their Boston travelers.

At least, easy initially.

It soon became apparent Roberta Westcott excelled in making situations ever-so-slightly uneasy with her unfaltering smile and congenial words expressing positivity, while her subtle actions spoke the opposite.

The omnibus:

“Transportation fit for royalty.” Fingers pick frayed armrest. “Impressive!”

The city:

“Stockton.” Hankie dots forehead perspiration. “A diamond in the rough!”

The hotel:

“Newly constructed.” Sneeze suggests lingering dust. “How delightful!”

The meal:

“Superb steak.” Rejected bites rim plate. “Lancer beef?”

Through it all, Scott noted his grandfather’s carefree persona of a young man enjoying the company of a lovely lady. Schoolboy giddy at times, the gentleman earned a raised brow more than once. Also noted - absent conversations regarding Kinsey.

As the evening’s cooler air filtered through the hotel’s lobby, Roberta Westcott insisted her son escort her through the streets of Stockton so she could observe firsthand the city’s growing prosperity. Whereupon Seth stealthily demonstrated he’d not only mastered Scott’s Fine Art of Counting to Ten, but also The Epic Eye Roll.

Spying the hotel’s Gentleman’s Club, Harlan Garrett insisted on a nightcap. Scott sensed an ambush.

“Ah, Scotty.” The amber liquid took a swirl around its snifter before blessing the Garrett patriarch with a sip. “This reminds me of our shared afternoons at the Union Club. Warm brandy. Fine cigars.”

Scott blew a smoke ring and watched its expanding halo drift upwards. “Lively debates.”

“You’re no longer calling them adamant arguments?”

“Only when necessary.” A grin pushed the accurate response into a good-natured jest. “And if memory serves me correctly, your Union Club associates made it necessary quite often.”

“Less necessary now.” Harlan's mood took a dip into melancholy. “Everett passed away last month.”

“My condolences.”

“Who should be surprised with the man’s declining health? He downed double bourbons and smoked like a chimney.”

“Indeed he did.” Another puffed cigar ring floated above Scott’s head. “I guess you’ll be in search of a new doctor.”

“He was a damn good physician!” Catching the irony in the rebuttal to his grandson’s tease, Harlan’s mood lightened. “And a robust investor in the tobacco and liquor industries.”

“To Everett.” Scott raised his drink. “Confirming what I’ve been thinking since your arrival.”

“And what would that be?”

“It’s not recent sound medical advice putting a spring in your step.”

“Roberta is an acquaintance, a travel companion, nothing more.” Harlan raised a brow at his grandson’s silence. “That’s who you’re referring to, of course.”

“It is now.” Scott shot a mischievous grin across the table.

A huff of disgust set the elder gentleman back in his chair. “I’ve fallen victim to my own tactic of extracting information from a reluctant lad.”

“I learned from the best.” Harlan’s reluctant lad tapped off the burning embers from his cigar into the hotel’s tin ash pan and set the Havana aside. “As travel companions, you’ve certainly had ample time to get acquainted.”

“A train lends itself to a setting of captive audiences. Roberta and I soon discovered we share many of the same interests and concerns. Our children, for example.”

“I imagine that the subject matter of children is listed under the heading of shared concerns.”

“Someday you’ll be a father, Scotty.” A wag of the finger suggested admonishment. “Maybe then you’ll understand the longevity of parental attentiveness.”

“And Kinsey?” Like Krylov's Inquisitive Man who didn't notice the elephant in the museum, Scott decided to address the topic which had been quietly standing between grandfather and grandson. “Surely your parental attentiveness has lessened since her engagement to Seth.”

“Well, of course it has. If memory serves me correctly, I was the one encouraging the match. Although, you had a more, shall we say, derogatory view of my advocacy for Kinsey. What did you call it as you stormed out of the carriage and back to the train station? Refresh my memory, Scotty.”

“Bill of sale.” The conversation’s abrupt turn down a back alley removed any inflection from the three spoken words.

“Yes. Bill of sale.” Harlan spread and splayed his hands as if granting forgiveness to a back pew sinner. “All in the past. Unwarranted words forgotten. Seth is a fine young gentleman for our Kinsey. They will prosper, be blessed with children and the Garrett lineage continues as it will with yours. Two strong branches creating legacies for future generations. Tell me, what more could an old man like me wish for? Why, there’s even the confidence of trusted business partners for our venture.”

“Pardon?” An eyebrow raised the query to what Scott’s tightening gut had already answered.

“Kinsey’s proposal for the three of us. Surely your youthful memory doesn’t need to be refreshed. Very little has changed, Scotty, except now the dear girl isn’t buying a vineyard, she’s simply marrying one.”

Not trusting to keep the edge out of his voice, Scott offered the briefest response to postpone further discussion. “Sir, it’s late.”

“Indeed it is.” Rising, Harlan rapped his knuckles on the polished mahogany table top. “Westcott Winery. You can list that subject matter under shared interests. Good night, my boy.”

Staring at his empty glass, Scott was uncertain how much time had passed between his grandfather vacating the smoking room’s chair and Seth’s arrival claiming it. Anger for not seeing the second elephant in the museum had consumed the minutes without counting them.

“Sweet Jesus. That woman.” Westcott ran a hand through his hair.

A smartly dressed waiter swooped in. “Would the gentleman care for a drink?”

“Double bourbon.” Seth pointed to his best man’s empty glass.

Scott’s nod accompanied affirmation with tally mark fingers. “Two.”

Settling quietude broke with served drinks and young men’s ponderings.

“I’m seriously considering eloping to Paris.”

Admiring his double bourbon, Scott relit his cigar. “Think I’ll enter the medical profession.”

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