QUIXTOTIC CROSSINGS ECXERPT Larkin, Maine January 1926
THERE WAS A HUSHED pallor in the drawing room, broken only by an occasional sniffle or sob. The casket of John Larkin rested on a small bier in the center of the room, the lid open for viewing. The patriarch's ninety-seven years on earth had ended four days before when the old man died in his sleep.
Chairs were arranged in four rows on either side of the room, all of them facing the open coffin. Sixty-seven-year-old Roddy Larkin sat in the front row with his wife Sascha, Claude Mondoux, Colm Sullivan and Roddy's thirty-one-year-old son Patrick; his wife Colleen and their two sons, six-year-old Brian and two-year-old Rory.
Roddy was visibly distressed, wiping his eyes with a cream-coloured handkerchief, his hands shaking. He had worshipped his father, and felt lost without him. The years had not been kind to Roddy. Excessive drinking bloated his face, and his hands were gnarled and rheumy. Despite his penchant for expensive port and whiskey, he rarely missed a day of work, no matter if he felt ill effects from the night before. After a big breakfast, Roddy always felt ready to face the day.
He glanced over at Claude, and saw tears streaming down the chef's cheeks. John and Claude had been very close, especially in John's later years. More than the family cook, Claude cared for John in his last days: bathing him, lifting him to and from his wheelchair and attending to his grooming and daily meals. The two men played chess every afternoon, and sometimes Claude wheeled John out of the mansion for a leisurely round of the estate in good weather.
Sascha nudged her husband, whispering: "Claude is beside himself, poor dear."
Roddy looked at his wife, noting her beautiful preservation at age sixty-two. Her blonde-silver hair was swept up into an elegant chignon, her face touched with the barest hint of cosmetics. "Claude and father were so close," he agreed quietly. "Colm, too. The three of them had a mutual admiration society."
There was no resentment in Roddy's tone. He was glad of his father's friendships, and never felt threatened by them. Roddy and John had been close as well, sharing a familial bond that was always strong. Since Roddy had done quite well by the various family businesses, increasing their fortune ten-fold, he had shown brightly in John's eyes.
Behind Roddy and Sascha in the second row were Lizbeth Bisiker and her son, Adam. Lizbeth had lived at the mansion since 1904, when the Amber Whale Tavern burned to the ground. It had been long-rumoured that Lizbeth was John's mistress even before the death of his wife Anne in 1889, although John's physical condition in recent years belied the gossip. Roddy knew Lizbeth had been his father's lover, but their sexual relationship ended years ago. John had a soft spot in his heart for the woman, and he allowed her to live at the mansion even though they could no longer consummate their union.
Lizbeth remained a good friend to John, helping Claude care for him until her own advancing age precluded her involvement. She was eighty-seven years old now. Her face had become wrinkled with time, but her pale green eyes were startlingly alert and she still had a head full of red hair. She had her own rooms on the second floor of the mansion, where her son Adam came to visit her every Sunday. He held her arm now, concern written on his face as he tried to soften her devastation.
Four groundsmen took the casket from the bier and left the drawing room through the French doors. Father Hearn led the slow procession to the family cemetery on the Larkin estate. The day was cold and gray, threatening snow. John's grave was turned earlier in the day, and the casket now rested on a green velvet depiction of the Irish and American flags merged as one. The red, white and blue clashed with the green and orange, but it somehow seemed fitting.
Lizbeth came to stand next to Roddy with the aid of her son. Roddy heard her soft weeping. He reached over and touched her shoulder briefly, trying to give her comfort. Lizbeth looked at him gratefully, her eyes blinded by tears. Roddy turned away, suddenly amused by the irony of the situation. He was comforting his father's mistress at his grave, with Anne Larkin's headstone only a few feet away.
After Father Kelvin Hearn gave a brief prayer over the grave, the mourners returned to the drawing room. They mingled, speaking in hushed tones while accepting refreshments from maids in black dresses. John Larkin's attorney Gerald Frazier approached Roddy, touching him on the arm. Gerald was a short man with a rounded middle, all but bald with square spectacles perched on his nose.
"Before I read John's will, it's imperative I speak to select members of the family first," Gerald said.
Roddy was surprised. "Excuse me?" Gerald lowered his voice. "John left me a specific set of instructions to be read only after his death. Before reading his last will and testament to the family, he told me to gather select family members first. I have a sealed envelope that I'm supposed to open and read to you, and then other family members and pertinent recipients can be privy to the will."
"Who are the select family members?" Roddy asked, puzzled. Leave it to John to impart one more bolt from the blue.
"Yourself, of course, and Sascha, Patrick and Mick Sullivan," Gerald said softly, noting Roddy's flush at the mention of Mick Sullivan. "John also wanted three non-family members present: Colm Sullivan, Claude Mondoux and Nigel Barton-Brooks."
"Naturally," Roddy thought in a flash. "The three cohorts in secrecy. This select gathering must have something to do with Molly's bastard child with Colm. What has father pulled this time? What did he craft in his steely mind before he died?"
A short while later the select gathering assembled in John Larkin's study, much to the high curiosity of the guests. Roddy shut the door firmly and joined Sascha on one of the settees in the room.
Gerald stood behind John's large desk, where he opened a sealed envelope and brought out a sheath of papers. He glanced around the room at the group of people, sensing their expectation.
Mick Sullivan was almost a mirror-image of his father Colm, albeit a younger version. While Colm was surprisingly well-preserved for his age, he lacked the youthful glint in his eyes that Mick now possessed. Father and son sat together on another settee near the fireplace.
Claude Mondoux sat in a chair next to the desk, his back ramrod straight. The man looked tired, but he was highly alert, glancing at the other faces in the room. He had to be seventy-five years old if he was a day.
Poor old Nigel Barton-Brooks was stooped over in the chair next to Claude, his snow-white hair slightly askew. Nigel seemed to be in a bit of a daze, a constant state of affairs with him these days. Gerald knew Nigel had not been able to attend to his duties as the family butler for a few years now, spending most of his days sitting by the fire in the kitchen or in his private room on the fourth floor of the mansion. Even though Nigel was physically incapable of doing his job any longer, John Larkin never thought to dismiss him.
"Nigel saw to my needs for many years," John once told Gerald. "He is loyal and devoted, much like Claude is. I would never desert either of them in their golden years. They deserve my care, the best of care."
Roddy and Sascha were well-known to Gerald because he also handled some of their legal business affairs. Their son Patrick was a tall man with chocolate-brown hair and dark eyes. He resembled Roddy but had a touch of John Larkin about him, the air of confidence and strength. Patrick and his wife Colleen McGarren had been married for eight years and had two healthy sons to show for it, although John had not seen fit to include Brian and Rory in this select gathering.
Gerald cleared his throat. "A few months ago John gave me an envelope and told me to read the contents to those present after his death," he said gravely. "You might say this is a last directive, or a secret codicil to his last will and testament."
No one spoke so Gerald continued, bringing the sheath of papers close to his face. He began to read the words in John's own decorative script:
If you are hearing my words, I am dead and you are now grieving or rejoicing. Whatever the case, what I have to impart lastly on this earth is important, and your agreement to the secrecy will affect your allotment in my final will. Those of you hearing me know about the liaison between my late daughter Molly and my former lighthouse keeper, Colm Sullivan. The result of their union was two fine young boys, Michael and John. At the time of their twin birth, Colm and his new wife Maureen claimed the children as their own. Molly bore the boys in secrecy and handed them over, an action I'm convinced added to Molly's mental state. But that is another matter, and I digress.
All of those now present know this secret, as did Dr. McGarren who delivered the twins. The good Doc died years ago, but he swore to me that he never revealed the truth of the twin's parentage. I'm certain of his honesty as I paid him quite well for it.
From this point forward, no one with knowledge of the truth will be permitted to reveal such to another living soul, written journal, and photographic ensemble or by any other means. Some of you may wonder at the gesture, but I am determined future generations will not suffer or be affected by the sins of the past.
I am neither ashamed by my grandson Mick Sullivan or abashed by his presence. I was dismayed by the events that culminated in his and little Johnny's birth, but I am so proud of Mick I could burst at the seams. This is the reason I am leaving him $250,000, which his father Colm was already aware of, plus another $200,000. Mick's son Jean-Claude will also receive the sum of $100,000 when he turns thirty years old in 1937. No one beyond this room is to know of the bestowments.
Failure to agree to my terms will negate your own allotments in my last will and testament. An extra sheet of paper has been provided for your signatures, which will bind you to the agreement without legal recourse. I bid you goodbye. May I see some of you in the afterlife.
Gerald laid the last sheath of paper on the desk, which contained the names of those present, with long written lines next to each name for signatures.
"If you sign this paper, you indicate agreement to John's terms," Gerald said.
Nigel spoke up, his voice coming shaky and weak. "Someone bring me the paper. I will sign it."
Colm rose, leaning over the desk to sign the paper. He then took the paper with a pen to Nigel, who signed with a quick scratch. Mick appeared stunned by his good fortune, but he also signed the document, as did Claude and Patrick.
Roddy had no qualms about the codicil terms. While he had no ill will toward Colm or Mick, he also didn't want Molly's indiscretions to be part of the public family history for generations to come. Roddy signed. Sascha hesitated only briefly, uncomfortably reminded of the ruse she used to get Roddy to marry her forty-six years ago. While their union had evolved into true love eventually, she was convinced an erasure of Molly's sorted past was in everyone's best interest. Sascha signed.
"Good," Gerald said. "Now we can allow the rest of the pertinent family and friends into the room."
Within minutes, Brian and Rory Larkin came into the study, where they went to their parents on the settee. Lizbeth was helped to a chair by Adam Bisiker, who left quickly as he was not included in the reading of the will.
John Larkin's last will and testament was straightforward, much as the man had been himself. Roddy received the bulk of the estate and monies valued at $40 million, with an extra $500,000 allotted for Sascha. Patrick received a $5 million inheritance, along with ownership of the Larkin Lumber Company, while Brian and Rory were each given $1 million trust accounts.
Colm Sullivan was also bequeathed $500,000, while Claude Mondoux was left $300,000 with the option to stay at the mansion rent-free for the rest of his life. John further esteemed Claude with the decree he be allowed burial at the family cemetery on the estate when the time came, the only servant in John's employ to be so honoured.
John left Nigel $100,000, and Lizbeth Bisiker was given $50,000. Nigel and Lizbeth were also left the option of staying on at the mansion rent-free for the rest of their days.
"This concludes John Larkin's last will and testament," Gerald stated as he reassembled the papers on the desk.
Claude wept openly, dabbing at his eyes with a small silk kerchief. He never dreamed John would leave him such a fortune, much less allow him to live on the estate for as long as he desired. When John died, Claude thought he might return to his native France and live out his days in leisure, but he had been in Maine for so long now - more than fifty years - that he felt a part of the land, and part of the Larkin family. He could just as easily live out his remaining days at the mansion that he loved so well, and become one with the ground when it was time to meet his maker.
Colm was stunned that John had left him so much money. He never expected it. He had long-known of Mick's good fortune, but he never assumed such largesse for himself. What use would the money be at his age? He was happy and settled in his cottage in Larkin City. He had no desire to travel or to live extravagantly. All he really cared about were his sons Mick and Father Aidan, his grandson Jean-Claude, and his daily painting.
"I have no need for such a large amount of money," Colm whispered to Mick. "I'll just leave it to you and Jean-Claude."
"Don't be silly, Dad," Mick whispered in return. "Take a trip. Buy a new car or buy a new house…"
Colm smiled tolerantly, deciding to let the matter go. Yes, he would leave the money to his son and grandson. He would keep silent to avoid Mick's dithering, but he was happy in the knowledge that when he died his son would reap the benefit.
Roddy stood from his place next to Sascha. "Father was generous with all of us," he said to everyone in the room. "I want all of you to know that I will honour his wishes." He gestured to Claude, Nigel and Lizbeth. "You are free to live here as long as you like, whether you can do your jobs or not. As father said, you deserve the best of care. Your unswerving loyalty has been rewarded."
Roddy glanced at Colm. "Despite your rather inauspicious beginning with the family, you were of great comfort to my father in his later years. He appreciated your worth, and I will continue to do so."
Sascha observed her husband, proud of his stance. Then she realized Colm's "inauspicious" beginnings with the Larkin's forty-six years ago resulted in her marriage to Roddy in a roundabout way. "What goes around comes around," Sascha thought with satisfaction.
Patrick Larkin watched the occupants of the study with a detached air. He expected to receive a large inheritance from John and was hardly surprised by it. Patrick was a very practical yet enigmatic man. He had a great deal of business acumen, a gift he had received from both John and Roddy, and possessed a singular drive to expand the family businesses, as well as Larkin City itself. He was merely building on what his grandfather started and what Roddy carried on. The possibilities were limitless.
Colleen glanced at her husband, sensing he was thinking about business rather than the event at hand. She was used to his almost manic desire to work, and had long given up the idea that she was the center of his world. She knew he loved her in his way, and he was proud of their two sons. Colleen was a serene and gentle soul, instinctively knowing when to bend with the wind. With a small sigh she brushed a stray lock of her tumbling auburn hair behind her ear. She was happy with her lot in life, but there were times when she felt something was missing.
As the study began to empty, Sascha raised herself from the settee. A new generation was taking the reins of the Larkin family, hopefully bringing with it a second flourish that with any luck be as good as the first one.