Scott collectedly lifted the envelope from his journal and examined the postmark.
No surprise. It corresponded with the recognized handwriting.
“I should read this.” The remark reflected a statement. Forming it as a question seemed unnecessary, considering Scott had an educated guess of his host’s reply.
“Yes.” Showing no indication of judgment, Phillip Westcott clasped his hands in his lap and nodded toward the correspondence. “Think of it as an introduction to our forthcoming conversation.”
Scott’s first reaction was to emit a long exhale until recalling his father’s words stopped him.
Bad timing on that heavy sigh, son.
Instead, a steady breath and hand removed the letter from the envelope.
As I put pen to paper, my deepest wish is for this letter to find you in good health and spirits. Although I’m quite certain the fruits of your vineyard happily provide the good spirits.
Our delightful Parker House dinner after the holidays did not give us enough time to thoroughly reminisce about our misspent youth.
Delightful? Scott bit his tongue. Dinner that evening had been anything but. The anticipation of spending pleasurable time with his grandfather while sharing a superb meal quickly derailed with Harlan Garrett selling their surprise guest, Phillip Westcott, a bill of goods by the name of Kinsey Furlong. Scott’s reaction to his grandfather’s unwarranted stunt was what Murdoch called vein-popping behavior.
A heavy sigh struggled to surface as the letter continued.
May we soon share a bottle of your superb wine while sitting in the shade of a California oak tree - celebrating a joyous occasion, perhaps? The news of my brother Fletcher’s granddaughter and your grandson’s engagement made my heart beat young again.
An eyebrow raised. Obviously, Harlan Garrett had penciled his name in at the top of Seth and Kinsey’s guest list. Whether it was the man’s pure assumption or first-hand knowledge appeared to be a moot point: he would be at the wedding.
I commend your grandson for seeing what I have known since the beginning. Kinsey, being a refined, well-bred young woman, will seamlessly step into the role of a loyal, dutiful wife and loving mother to his offspring. Of course, her substantial inheritance will certainly be an asset to the Westcott dynasty.
Scott felt the beginnings of a headache clamping down at his temples.
I must confess, sleep did not come easy some nights with my concerns over the future of Kinsey’s finances. Who can fault us old men for worrying their experienced advice will no longer be needed? However, knowing I did my best to firmly establish my values during Scott’s upbringing has lessened the anxiety. I predict your confidence in Seth will lessen yours. Yet, reckless choices made by the young due to immaturity remain rather unsettling during these times in the world of change.
Scott had to admit, he distastefully admired his grandfather’s ingenuity. Why spend the money on more lawyers or Pinkerton agents’ costly fees when a few written lines and a postage stamp could be just as effective at putting a fly into the ointment? It was clear. Harlan Garrett still had, as Winnie would say, his knickers in a knot over the trustee decisions laid out in his brother’s will, even though the legal battle was essentially over.
I look forward to meeting your grandson. I had the pleasure of being in the company of your lovely daughter-in-law as preparations here in Boston for the engagement celebrations are finalized. She sends her regards.
Be well, Phillip. I fondly anticipate when our paths can cross again.
Scott’s raised eyebrow returned the letter to its envelope. Surrendering to the relentless heavy sigh guided the correspondence across the table to its owner. “My grandfather certainly has a way with words.”
“That he does.” Phillip’s hand passed up the opportunity to retrieve the letter, choosing his wine glass instead. “Do you know I witnessed Harlan, at the age of twelve, successfully negotiate with a bully who was a heartbeat away from pounding the stuffing out of Fletcher? Not only did your grandfather prevent two delivered black eyes for his little brother, but haggled a prized aggie shooter out of the neighborhood ruffian's marble bag and into his own.”
“A shrewd businessman even at an early age.”
“Well, considering Fletcher had been caught cheating at the game, I would agree.” Westcott gifted himself a sip.
“I’ve met Fletcher Garrett.” Scott paused and followed his host’s lead. “Two black eyes would have served him well.”
The mood lightened with Westcott’s chuckle. “Agreed.” An index finger tapped the envelope containing premeditated seeds of doubt from Boston. “So put yourself in my shoes - an old man living in this world of change - what are you thinking right now?”
Scott stared at his grandfather’s handwriting. “I’m thinking perhaps it’s not my competitor, George West, who wants to swallow up my vineyard. Maybe it’s Harlan Garrett’s grandson.”
“And why should I think otherwise?”
Eyes locked in on the host. “Because he’s Murdoch Lancer’s son.”
Smiling, Phillip nodded. “Certainly an answer every father prays to hear spoken as proudly as you just did.” A pause allowed for another sip. “Seth has mentioned Kinsey’s inheritance but I don’t believe the word substantial ever crossed his lips.”
“Eight hundred thousand.” Scott grew tired of dancing around words like significant, considerable…substantial. “Fletcher Garrett’s worth amounted to eight hundred thousand dollars, give or take a few silvers, all of which he willed to his unsuspecting granddaughter.”
Phillip Westcott displayed the expression Kinsey first wore after viewing the legal document containing final details of Fletcher’s wishes. Her whispered query of is this figure correct was expected. The amount had taken Scott by surprise, too.
“I’m certain my grandfather on more than one occasion stepped in on behalf of his younger brother. And how does Fletcher thank him for all those years of fewer black eyes? By changing his will to remove his big brother as trustee of the estate and handing the reins over to Harlan’s grandson. A month later Fletcher Garrett has the last laugh from the grave.”
“Oh, how Harlan hated to lose.” Westcott picked up the envelope to join in the conversation. “Not much has changed since our misspent youth. Has it, old friend?”
Indeed, it hasn’t.
Even though Scott still respected Phillip Westcott, he found the manner in which the man had broached the Boston letter…well, perhaps it deserved a door that swung both ways with seeds of doubt.
“Sir, Fletcher Garrett’s last will and testament did something else. It bestowed the intangible knowledge that my responsibility in protecting my little cousin had also grown substantially. Now, along comes this gentleman I hardly know and sweeps Kinsey off her feet with promises of a bright future and happy life in the middle of a beautiful vineyard.” Scott clasped his hands in his lap and nodded toward his host. “So put yourself in my shoes - the protectorate of a vulnerable young lady in a world of change - what are you thinking right now?”
Westcott dipped his chin with a soft smile of acknowledgment. “I’m thinking that maybe this gentleman doesn't love my cousin, he loves her money.”
“And why should I think otherwise?”
The patriarch’s gaze lifted to meet his guest’s. “Because the gentleman is Phillip Westcott’s grandson.”
“I’d like to think that on occasion Murdoch Lancer has spoken those words about his oldest son with the same conviction.” A last sip was taken. “Life is a kind of chess, with struggle, competition, good and ill events. Franklin’s quote often spoken by my grandfather.” Scott reached out and tapped the envelope as Phillip had done earlier. “This, sir, is his response to my checkmate.”
“Old Ben was a wise man.” The elder Westcott refilled both wine glasses. “In his honor, shall we drink to bright futures, happy lives and well-played chess games in a world of change?”
“That would set with me just fine.”
“You know, my grandson views you like a brother.”
Scott smiled. He now knew how to finish the sentence in his journal. Not cousin-in-law. Brother-in-law.
“Having said that, I’d be remiss in not pointing out Harlan misspoke when referring to Roberta, Seth’s mother. Son, the woman is not lovely. She’s a smiling cobra.”