Roses, p.1Leila Meacham
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Leila Meacham
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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For Janice Jenning Thomson… a friend for all seasons
And here I prophesy: this brawl today,
Grown to this faction in the Temple garden,
Shall send, between the red rose and the white,
A thousand souls to death and deadly night.
—Earl of Warwick in
William Shakespeare’s Henry VI,
part 1, Act II, scene iv
My thanks, first, to Louise Scherr for bringing the novel to the attention of David McCormick, superb literary agent, who, with his fine staff, made wonderful things happen for me. Among them was placing the book in the hands of Deb Futter, editor in chief of Grand Central Publishing, and her assistant, Dianne Choie. Deb led me through the revisions and Dianne the maze of publishing wickets with such humor and courtesy and understanding that those usually dreaded tasks turned into a happy experience for me.
Thanks, too, to Nancy Johanson, freelance copy editor extraordinaire, whose keen editorial eye and generous assistance were invaluable to me early on, and to Clint Rodgers, computer whiz, who answered my every (and frequent) SOS cheerfully.
And, as always, thanks to my loving husband for the many years of being there for me.
Finally—from the place where my everlasting awe resides—I give thanks for and to the friends who lined the road and cheered me on. Because of you, I reached the finish line. You know who you are.
HOWBUTKER, TEXAS, AUGUST 1985
At his desk, Amos Hines turned over the last sheet of the two-page legal document he’d been instructed to read. His mouth had gone dry as wheat chaff, and for a moment he could only blink in dazed disbelief at his client and longtime friend seated before his desk, a woman he had admired—revered—for forty years and had thought he knew. He searched her expression for indications that age had finally affected her faculties, but she stared back with all the clear-eyed acuity for which she was renowned. Working saliva into his mouth, he asked, “Is this codicil for real, Mary? You’ve sold the farms and changed your will?”
Mary Toliver DuMont nodded, the waves of her coiffed white head catching the light from the French windows. “Yes to both, Amos. I know you’re shocked, and this isn’t a nice way to repay all your years of service and devotion, but you’d have been deeply hurt if I’d put this business in the hands of another attorney.”
“Indeed I would have,” he said. “Another attorney would not have tried to talk you into rethinking this codicil—at least the part that can be revised.” There was no rescuing Toliver Farms, Mary’s enormous cotton holdings that she’d sold in secret negotiations the past month, a fact concealed from her great-niece sitting in ignorance out in Lubbock, Texas, as manager of Toliver Farms West.
“There’s nothing to revise, Amos,” Mary said with a trace of asperity. “What’s done is done, and there’s no changing my mind. You’d waste your time and mine by trying.”
“Has Rachel done something to offend you?” he asked evenly, swiveling his chair around to a credenza. He reached for a carafe and noticed his hand shook as he poured two glasses of water. He would have preferred something stronger, but Mary never touched alcohol. “Is that why you sold the farms and amended your will?”
“Oh, good Lord, no,” Mary said, sounding horrified. “You must never believe that. My great-niece has done nothing but be who she is—a Toliver through and through.”
He found beverage napkins and rotated to hand Mary her glass. She’d lost weight, he decided. Her couture suit hung on her somewhat, and her coddled face—still striking at eighty-five—looked thinner. “This business” had taken a toll on her, as it damn well should, he thought, a shaft of anger shooting through him. How could she do this to her great-niece—dispossess her of everything she’d expected to inherit—the land and house of her forebears, her right to live in the town they’d helped to found? He took a long swallow of the water and tried to keep the outrage from his v
“It is, and I’m correcting it.” She turned up her glass and drank thirstily, patting the napkin to her lips afterward. “That’s the purpose of the codicil. I don’t expect you to have a clue as to what that purpose is, Amos, but Percy will when the time comes. So will Rachel once I’ve explained it.”
“And when do you plan to do that?”
“I’m flying to Lubbock tomorrow in the company plane to meet with her. She doesn’t know I’m coming. I’ll tell her about the sale and the codicil then and hope that my arguments convince her I’ve done what’s best for her.”
Best for her? Amos peered over his glasses at her in incredulous wonder. Mary would have better luck selling celibacy to a sailor. Rachel would never forgive her for what she’d done, of that he was certain. He leaned forward and held her with a determined eye. “How about trying your arguments on me first, Mary? Why would you sell Toliver Farms, which you’ve worked most of your life to build? Why leave Somerset to Percy Warwick, of all people? What use is a cotton plantation to him? Percy is a lumberman, for God’s sake. He’s ninety years old! And bequeathing the Toliver mansion to the Conservation Society is… well, it’s the final slap. You know that Rachel has always regarded that house as her home. She’s planning on spending the rest of her life in it.”
“I know. That’s why I’ve deprived her of it.” She appeared unmoved, sitting ramrod straight with her hand curved over the crook of her anchored cane, looking for all the world like a queen on her throne and the cane her scepter. “I want her to make her own home somewhere else, start over on new ground,” she said. “I don’t want her staying here and living out her life according to the gospel of the Tolivers.”
“But… but I don’t understand.” Amos spread his hands in frustration. “I thought that’s what you’d prepared her for all these years.”
“It was a mistake—a very selfish mistake. Thank God I realized the tragedy of my error before it was too late and had the gumption and… wisdom to correct it.” She waved a dismissive hand. “Save your energy and mine in trying to convince me to explain, Amos. It’s a puzzle, I know, but keep your faith in me. My motives could not be purer.”
Bewildered, he tried another tack. “You haven’t done this out of some misguided notion of what you feel you owe her father, William, have you?”
“Absolutely not!” A spark of temper flashed in her eyes. They were known as the “Toliver eyes”—green as rare emeralds, a feature inherited from her father’s side of the family along with her once black hair and the dimple in the center of her chin. “I’m sure my nephew might see it that way—or rather, that wife of his will,” she said. “To her mind, I’ve done what’s right and proper by giving William what has justly been his all along.” She gave a little snort. “Let Alice Toliver have her illusion that I sold the farms out of guilt over what I owe her husband. I didn’t do any of this for him, but for his daughter. I believe he’ll realize that.” She paused, her finely lined face pensive, doubtful, and added in a less confident tone, “I wish I could be as sure of Rachel….”
“Mary…” Amos strove for his most persuasive timbre. “Rachel’s a swatch from the same cloth as you. Do you think that you would have understood if your father had deprived you of your legacy—the plantation, the house, the town that owes its birth to your family—no matter how justified his reasons?”
Her jaw tightened beneath the slight droop of her jowls. “No, but I wish he had. I wish to God he’d never left me Somerset.”
He gaped at her, truly shocked. “But why? You’ve had a marvelous life—a life that I thought you wished to bequeath to Rachel to perpetuate your family’s heritage. This codicil is so”—he swept the back of his hand over the document—“averse to everything I thought you’d hoped for her—that you led her to believe you wanted for her.”
She slackened in her chair, a proud schooner with the wind suddenly sucked from her sails. She laid the cane across her lap. “Oh, Amos, it’s such a long story, far too long to go into here. Percy will have to explain it all to you someday.”
“Explain what, Mary? What’s there to explain?” And why someday, and why Percy? He would not be put off by a stab of concern for her. The lines about her eyes and mouth had deepened, and her flawless complexion had paled beneath its olive skin tone. Insistently, he leaned farther over the desk. “What story don’t I know, Mary? I’ve read everything ever printed about the Tolivers and Warwicks and DuMonts, not to mention having lived among you for forty years. I’ve been privy to everything affecting each of you since I came to Howbutker. Whatever secrets you may have harbored would have come out. I know you.”
She lowered her lids briefly, fatigue clearly evident in their sepia-tinged folds. When she raised them again, her gaze was soft with affection. “Amos, dear, you came into our lives when our stories were done. You have known us at our best, when all our sad and tragic deeds were behind us and we were living with their consequences. Well, I want to spare Rachel from making the same mistakes I made and suffering the same, inevitable consequences. I don’t intend to leave her under the Toliver curse.”
“The Toliver curse?” Amos blinked in alarm. Such eccentric language was unlike her. He wondered if age had affected her brain. “I never heard of or read anything about a Toliver curse.”
“My point exactly,” she said, giving him her typical smile, a mere lifting of the lips over teeth that remarkably—unlike those of her contemporaries, unlike his—had not yellowed to the hue of old piano keys.
He refused to be dismissed. “Well, what about these consequences?” he demanded. “You owned—or did—a cotton empire stretching across the country. Your husband, Ollie DuMont, possessed one of the finest department stores in Texas, and Percy Warwick’s company has been in the Fortune 500 for decades. What ‘sad and tragic deeds’ led to consequences like those, I’d like to know.”
“You must believe me,” she said, straightening her shoulders. “There is a Toliver curse, and it has affected us all. Percy is well aware of it. Rachel will be, too, when I show her evidence of its indisputable existence.”
“You’ve left her a ton of money,” he pursued, unwilling to give up. “Suppose she buys land somewhere else, builds another Somerset, roots a new dynasty of Tolivers all over again. Wouldn’t this… curse you speak of still hold?”
Her eyes flashed with something indecipherable. Her lip curled with a secret bitterness. “Dynasty implies sons and daughters to pass on the ancestral torch. In that respect, the Tolivers have never been a dynasty, a point you may have missed in your history books.” Her drawl was heavy with irony. “No, the curse won’t hold. Once the umbilical cord is cut to the plantation, the curse will die. No land anywhere else will have the power to extract from us what Somerset has. Rachel will never sell her soul as I have for the sake of family soil.”
“You sold your soul for Somerset?”
“Yes, many times. Rachel has, too. I’m breaking her of that tendency.”
He slumped in defeat. He was beginning to think that indeed he’d missed a few chapters in the history books. He attempted one final argument. “Mary, this codicil represents your last regards to those you love. Think of how its provisions might affect not only Rachel’s memory of you, but also the relationship between her and Percy when he’s in possession of her birthright. Are those the regards by which you wish to be remembered?”
“I’ll risk their misinterpretation,” she said, but her look mellowed. “I know how very fond you are of Rachel and that you think I’ve betrayed her. I haven’t, Amos. I’ve saved her. I wish there were time today to explain what I mean by that, but there simply isn’t. You must trust that I know what I’m doing.”
He laced his hands over the codicil. “I have the rest of the day. Susan has rescheduled my afternoon appointments. I have all the time in the world for you to explain to me what this is all about.”
She reached over the desk and cove
He glanced at the white envelope he’d withdrawn facedown from the one containing the codicil. “Save that one for last to read,” she’d instructed, and suddenly—with a sharp flash of intuition—he understood why. His heartbeat arrested, he turned over the envelope and read the sender’s address. “A medical clinic in Dallas,” he muttered, aware that Mary had turned her head away and was fingering the famed string of pearls around her neck that her husband, Ollie, had presented her, one pearl on each of their wedding anniversaries until the year of his death. There were fifty-two of them now, large as hummingbird eggs, the strand falling perfectly in the collarless opening of her green linen suit. It was on these pearls that he fastened his eyes when he’d finished reading the letter, unable to bring them to her face.
“Metastatic renal cancer,” he croaked, his prominent Adam’s apple jouncing. “And there’s nothing to be done?”
“Oh, the usual,” she said, reaching for her water glass. “Surgery and chemo and radiation. But all that would simply prolong my days, not my life. I decided against treatment.”
Burning grief, like acid, spilled through him. He removed his glasses and squeezed his eyes shut, pinching the bridge of his nose to hold back tears. Mary did not like sloppy displays of emotion. Now he knew what she’d been about in Dallas last month besides arranging for the sale of Toliver Farms. They’d had no idea—not her great-niece or her longest friend, Percy, or Sassie, her housekeeper for over forty years, or her devoted old lawyer… all those who loved her. How like Mary to play her last cards so close to the vest.
He reset his glasses and forced himself to meet her eyes—eyes that still, despite their lined settings, reminded him of the color of spring leaves shimmering through raindrops. “How long?” he asked.
“They give me three more weeks… maybe.”
Losing the battle to his grief, Amos opened a drawer where he kept a supply of clean handkerchiefs. “I’m sorry, Mary,” he said, pressing the voluminous square of white lawn to his eyes, “but too much is coming at me all at once….”
Roses by Leila Meacham / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes