There was a chill in the air, although the sun was a golden orb in a clear blue sky. The early daffodils with their bright yellow petals were swaying against the clipped green lawns that rolled down to a nearby pond. Spencer drew in a breath of fresh air. He smelled the sweet fragrance of spring bulbs heralding spring after a hard winter. It rained earlier in the day, and even if it was almost noon, the dew from the shrubs gave an iridescent quality on a cool spring day. Spencer looked up at the house and could not help admiring its majestic grandeur surrounded by acres of rolling meadow, gardens, and rare specimens of trees just like Paul had told him earlier. The brick façade, flat balustraded roof, five-bay central block flanked by the extended bay on each side, with mullioned windows looking more Elizabethan than Georgian architecture made him feel like he had never left England.
As soon as Paul parked the car in front of the portico, the massive front door opened, and a few household staff members came out to welcome him. They formed a semi-circle in front of the front steps. Spencer saw his mother, Margaret Wentworth, in her morning dress with his father, George Wentworth Jr., in his morning coat came out of the house. Following them was the butler with two footmen. Paul went around the car and opened the car door, and Spencer stepped out. He smiled and nodded to the servants and walked towards his mother, standing by the front stone steps with his father by her side. She looked him up and down and saw the changes in him. He was now a full-grown man, not the young man who went abroad three years ago. Spencer saw his mother had not changed. She still had a slim figure. His father had put on a little weight.
“Welcome home. It’s good to see you back,” his mother said. Spencer kissed his mother on the cheek, and they both embraced tightly. She then took a step back to look Spencer over. His mother thought he looked more serious and cosmopolitan now than when he left.
“You look wonderful,” she said.
“Thank you, Mother,” Spencer said with a smile.
She looked at her husband, who was watching his son and appraising him too with keen interest. Spencer turned to his father and gave him a handshake, and then hugged him.
“Welcome home, son,” his father said as he released Spencer from his embrace.
“I’m glad to be back. It has been a long time,” Spencer said.
Both his parents smiled. His mother concluded that living abroad or away from one’s parents could change any child when they left their nest. They grew up pretty fast. His father thought the same thing.
Spencer looked around and did not see his younger sister. “Where is Emma? Is she home? I was expecting to see her here today to welcome me.”
“She’s with some friends in Bar Harbor. She apologized she could not be here today, but she’ll be back this weekend,” his mother said. He was a bit disappointed, but he let it pass.
“How’s everything? The house looks magnificent.”
“Very well. Come on inside,” George said.
George led him inside as the servants went back to their posts, and the footmen gathered his trunks and suitcases to bring inside the house. He heard the butler, Mr. Yates, told the two footmen, Frank and John, to bring them upstairs to his bedroom.
They walked into the huge entrance hall, a room with black and white marble tiled floor and a majestic Waterford crystal chandelier hanging from the lofty ceiling, the light dancing on the multifaceted glass. There was a large marble-topped French commode by the front door with fresh arrangements of spring flowers and a small silver tray for calling cards. Above the table was a Neoclassical mirror flanked by two carved wooden brackets with Chinese porcelain jars on them. As they entered, Spencer stopped and looked around. He saw the beautiful curving staircase leading to the upper floors on the left side of the entrance hall. It was a relief to know that it was not altered with the latest renovation. He loved the staircase where he used to slide down on the banister when he was a youngster. George Wentworth saw the look on Spencer’s face.
“We keep it the way it was,” George said.
“I’m glad. Thank you,” Spencer said.
They then proceeded to the drawing room, a gracious room with its understated elegance and good taste. Their interior decorator did an excellent job with it. She was knowledgeable about American antiques and knew how to use them to their best advantage. The result was elegant but now overpowering. The dark polished floor gleamed against the exquisite silk Heriz carpet with muted colors in the center of the room. The drawing room with wallpaper of cabbage rose on a trellis design on the palest of yellow background gave the whole room a sunny, airy feeling of one enclosed in a garden. It was a very comfortable room for anyone to linger and relax.
Two long sofas, facing each other across a butler’s tray table in front of the fireplace, were covered in romantic chintz with beautiful roses of soft pink and butter yellow on a white background carrying the rose motif from the wallpaper. At each end of the sofa, the Pembroke tables held priceless crystal lamps with pale cream pleated shades of the finest silk and rare porcelain bowls filled with fresh spring nosegays of yellow jonquils and blue hyacinths sending their aromatic scents around the room. The Neoclassical fireplace was ornately carved with a caryatid figure on each side. On the mantel was a pair of antique silver candlesticks holding white candles, and in the center was a Cartier’s carriage clock. Above the fireplace dominating the wall was an oil landscape painting by Thomas Doughty, one of the artists of the Hudson River School, an artistic movement developed in the United States during a period of roughly fifty years (1825-1875) based on Romanticism and inspired by the wild areas in the vicinity of New York’s Hudson River.
On the other end of the room was a Chippendale cabinet of great beauty filled with fine Sevres porcelains. A pair of other landscape paintings of the Hudson River School by Thomas Cole graced the wall over a couple of Chippendale chairs upholstered in gold damask flanking the Chippendale cabinet. Whoever decorated this room had an unerring eye for color, form, and skill at placing and arranging furniture. It was evident everywhere, and yet this was not an extremely feminine room devoid of useless clutter. It was a gracious drawing room where a man could feel at ease in great comfort amidst its simple beauty.
George Wentworth walked across the room while Spencer and his mother stood by the fireplace. Spencer put his hand near the fireplace to warm them. George Wentworth went to a small console that held crystal glasses and a silver tray of drinks. He picked up three glasses.
George Wentworth turned around and asked his son, “Can I offer you a drink? It’s that time of day already. A brandy perhaps.”
“I’d love to, Father. Brandy would be great.”
He turned to his wife, “Sherry, my dear?”
George poured sherry for his wife and brandy for himself and his son. Spencer excused himself from his mother and walked toward his father. He took his mother’s and his drink from the console and went back to where he was by the fireplace. George was behind him.
“Welcome home,” George said again and raised his glass.
Spencer did the same. “Cheers.” His mother smiled and raised her glass too. They all took a sip of their drinks.
George pointed to the sofa, and they moved and sat down on the two sofas in front of the fireplace. George sat next to his wife, and Spencer sat across the butler tray table on the other sofa. Spencer suddenly realized that Prohibition was in effect. He wondered where his parent got the liquor.
Spencer looked at his drink and asked his father, “How did you get this?”
George knew what Spencer was thinking. “We have the right connections. We know where to get them.”
“Isn’t that too dangerous?”
“Only if you get caught.”
Spencer wanted to argue but decided not to. He needed that drink anyway. He took another sip of his brandy.
“How did the Prohibition come about?” He asked his father.
“If you remember, although you may not since you were still at prep school on your last year. It was January 16, 1920, when they legally abolished every saloon in the United States. The manufacture, importation, and sale of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes were prohibited. This was the result of a battle waged for over two centuries.”
“We were not paying attention at that time,” Spencer said.
“If I go back in history, the first laws in America against the use of intoxicating liquors was made in Massachusetts in 1639, and at about the same time in Connecticut. Governor Oglethorpe in 1733 had the importation of rum into Georgia prohibited, as well as the importation of slaves. Then in 1774, the first Continental Congress proposed to the different states the passage of laws to stop the distilling of liquors. Even the United States Army got into the act and changed the ration of “grog” to coffee in 1832,” George said and took a swig of his drink.
“Really? That’s terrible for the soldiers. I bet you they did not like that one bit,” Spencer said, smiling.
“No, they did not, but they had no choice in the matter,” George said. “At about the same time, laws were passed in some states requiring a license for the sale of liquor. There were other efforts to pass Prohibition laws over the years but were soon repealed. In recent years the liquor problem has been seriously considered in all parts of the world.” George took another sip of his brandy.
How was it in England?” Margaret asked.
“There seemed to be no problem, at least for me. Where ever I went, I could get a drink, granted it was mostly on country homes of my acquaintances,” Spencer said, looking at his mother.
“I don’t think we had a problem at private homes. The saloon is a different matter. Besides, saloons are more and more regarded as a nuisance and a danger to society and the state,” George said, then continued. “In 1908, the government enacted a law that after 1922, the Great Britain saloons could be closed without paying the owners for the loss of license and that the magistrates could close as many saloons as they saw fit.”
“That would be difficult since the British like their pubs,” Spencer said.
“Well, here in the United States, the Anti-Saloon League has taken the lead in the campaign since 1903, its platform – the suppression of the saloon. It had the support of both the total abstinence believers and the not total abstainers who were convinced of the evils and dangers of the saloon.” He paused, seemed to think harder. “Then on December 17, 1917, Congress passed what is known as the Webb resolution submitting to the states an amendment to the Federal Constitution providing for national prohibition. Mississippi was the first state to ratify, followed by other states until the required 36 states had ratified, making the law effective on January 16. 1920.”
Margaret said, “With the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, the sale of alcohol in America was made illegal. However, the Mafia in New York and Chicago became kings of crime by filling the public’s bottomless highball glasses and teacups in clandestine speakeasies with ‘hooch’”.
“That’s fascinating. Anyway, I’m glad you have some liquor in the house,” Spencer said.
“You just have to know where to get it,” his father said.
Spencer turned to his mother and said, “I can’t tell you enough how great it is to be home again.”
“We missed you very much,” his mother said.
They heard a soft knock, and Mr. Yates entered the drawing room. “What is it, Yates?” Margaret Wentworth asked the butler.
“When do you want us to serve lunch, ma’am?”
She turned to Spencer and asked, “Is 1 o’clock good for you? It will give you time to relax and change your clothes.”
“That will be fine,” Spencer said.
“Very well, ma’am,” Yates said.
“Thank you, Yates.” Yates turned around and closed the door softly. He hurried back into the kitchen and gave the order to Mrs. Conley, the cook.
After Mr. Yates left the room, George Wentworth turned to Spencer, “How was the crossing? Hope you did not encounter bad weather.”
“Yes, we did, as a matter of fact, on our second night at sea. I met some very interesting people on the ship before we hit the rough seas. It was terrifying.”
“When passengers started leaving the dining room, I decided to do the same and headed to my cabin.”
“That was smart,” his mother said.
“But it was no better in my cabin. The ship was rocking violently. I did not sleep well that night. All I could think of was the Titanic and hoped to make it to New York.”
“That was awful,” his father said.
His mother put her hands on her mouth.
“Do you know that your ship, the Olympic, almost rescued the Titanic?” George said.
“How?” Spencer knotted his brow in disbelief.
“When Olympic was about 100 nautical miles away from Titanic’s last known position, she received a message from Captain Rostron, the captain of Cunard Liner Carpathia, explaining that continuing on course to Titanic would gain nothing, telling the captain of the Olympic, ‘All boats were accounted for. About 675 souls saved.’ Rostron requested that the message be forwarded to White Star and Cunard. He said that he was returning to harbor in New York. When Olympic offered to take on the survivors, she was heatedly turned down by an appalled Rostron, who was concerned that it would cause panic amongst the disaster survivors to see a virtual mirror-image of the Titanic appear and ask them to board. Olympic then resumed her voyage to Southampton, with all concerts canceled as a mark of respect, arriving on April 21.”
“I did not know that. That was terrible rejecting Olympic’s offer to help since shewas close by.” Spencer was shocked to hear that.
“But something good came out of that disaster,” George said.
“I know,” Spencer said, aware of that. “Apparently, White Star withdrew Olympic from service and returned her to her builders at Belfast to be refitted to incorporate lessons learned from the Titanic’s disaster six months prior and improve safety. Besides increasing the numbers of lifeboats, they corrected a flaw in the original design in which the bulkheads only rose as far as E or D-Deck, a short distance above the waterline.”
“That flaw had been exposed during Titanic’s sinking, where water spilled over the top of the bulkheads as the ship sank and flooded subsequent compartments,” George said.
“Yes,” Spencer said. “In addition, an extra bulkhead was added to subdivide the electrical dynamo room, bringing the total number of watertight compartments to seventeen. I understand improvements were also made to the ship’s pumping apparatus. These modifications meant that Olympic could survive a collision similar to that of Titanic and the ship could remain afloat.” Spencer rubbed both his hands on the snifter. He stood up, placed his glass on the marble mantelpiece, and put his hands close to the fire to warm them up.
“You said you met some interesting people on the ship. Anyone, I know?”
“Yes, a Wall Street fellow named Bloomberg. I have to go to the city later this week and have lunch with him. I asked him to meet me at the Knickerbocker. Will there be a problem to take him there, he being Jewish? ” Spencer looked at his father and saw what he would say. He remembered when they used to go to the city. His father always went to the Knickerbocker Club. His family had been a long-time member.
“No problem if you take him. I’ll let them know to include you in my account.”
His mother looking at Spencer’s outfit, asked, “Will you change before we have lunch, my dear?” It was more a command than a question. He was in his traveling clothes, and he knew he had to change. He could not possibly sit down to lunch wearing his travel outfit. That would be deplorable. His mother would be horrified.
His father nodded his head and said, “You may go check your room now and freshen up a bit and change.”
Spencer stood up. “I think I better do that right now. I will change into something more comfortable.”
“Splendid idea. Then after lunch, we can show you the grounds,” his mother said. “We’re putting you in the last room on the east wing facing south. You’ll have a fantastic view of the grounds and might even see the Atlantic Ocean from your room on a clear day. It was built with you in mind. See if you like it.”
“Fabulous. Let me go and check it out.”
Spencer picked up his glass, took another swig of his brandy, put the glass back on the coffee table, and walked out of the drawing room. He felt the exhilarated comfort and pleasure of being back home with his family at Wentworth Hall. He walked towards the curving stairway to the second floor. On top of the stairway, he turned left, walked down the long corridor passing through rows of bedroom doors towards the end. A selection of rare hunting prints graced the hallway wall, obviously the favorite pastime of the family. He walked into his bedroom with lofty oyster white ceilings and bluish-gray paint on its wall. It felt soothing and restful to his senses. A maid must have pulled back the curtain, and the room was filled with light and airiness. A slight breeze was coming through the wide opened window facing south. He looked down and saw the Japanese garden just below his window. A parterre was laid down just beyond it with its central axis directly opposite the terrace by the drawing room. Spring flowers were abloom. Hyacinth, tulips, daffodils, and scillas were all vying for attention, and the roses and perennials were beginning to green up. He looked further and could see the whole of South Shore toward the ocean.
He noticed the trunks were already empty with his clothes hanging in the closet in the adjoining dressing room. He was astounded at the efficiency of the staff.
To keep a big house like Wentworth Hall, the owner had to hire a cadre of servants to maintain the house in tip-top condition. The butler was the head man among the staff. Then there were under butler, footmen, and the housekeeper. The housekeeper was equal to the butler and was the supervisor over all the female servants except the kitchen staff. There were upstairs maids and downstairs maids, laundry maids, and a cook and her helpers. There was a head gardener and his crew who maintained the ground and the greenhouse. The stableman and his boys took care of the stable and the horses. The chauffeur and under chauffeur drove the master and his family in ten cars, including five Rolls Royces.
His room just suited him fine. There was a large mahogany four-poster bed flanked by two mahogany night tables, one on each side. A secretary desk was on one side of the room. There was a fireplace in the Robert Adam style across from the bed where the fire would warm the room on this chilly morning. A landscape painting by Turner with its misty greens and clear blues was hanging above the fireplace. A pair of Queen Anne wing chairs in light tan leather and a small table flanked the fireplace. Above the mantelpiece was a bronze equine sculpture by Remington. The room felt comfortable and not stuffy at all.
He glanced at the bed and was tempted to lie down, but he decided otherwise. Lunch was just a few minutes away, and he better not be tardy on his first day at home. That would not go well with Mrs. Conley, the cook. Instead, he washed up a little and quickly changed his clothes. He put on a white shirt, a regimental tie, a tweed jacket and put on his riding breeches. He intended to go riding after his parents gave him a tour of the garden. He brushed his blond, straight, finely textured hair across his shapely head and went back downstairs. His parents came back to the drawing room in a short while after changing for lunch.
In no time, they heard a knock at the door, and Mr. Yates walked in. “Lunch is served, ma’am,” he said to Margaret.
“Thank you, Yates.” The butler turned around and headed toward the dining room. They all got up and walked through an adjoining door into the dining room, following Yates, who stood by holding the door open and closed it after entering the room.
The dining room was a lovely room with a chinoiserie design wallcovering. It faced the south adjoining the terrace. It was bright and airy and furnished with fine furniture from the three great furniture makers of the eighteenth century. The huge Hepplewhite table was set for three with the finest china and silverware. In the middle of the dining table was a floral arrangement of spring flowers flanked by a pair of silver candelabra with five glittering arms. A Waterford crystal chandelier hung above the dining table. On one side of the room was a mahogany Sheraton sideboard with a silver tureen in the middle and knife caddies on each side. Above the sideboard, there was a Dutch Master still life painting of flowers, including roses in a baroque style with swirling brushstrokes of the flowers in its vitality that practically jumped at you when you look at the picture. On the opposite wall, a Chippendale cabinet housed a collection of fine Rose Medallion china. A fireplace with a rich, detailed carving on its mantelpiece graced another wall. Above it was a convex mirror reflecting sparkling silver and crystal images against the mellow patinas of the handsome furniture.
As soon as they were seated, the butler and a footman came and served them their lunch of quail eggs, small potatoes, and creamed spinach. As they were eating their dessert of chocolate soufflé, Spencer brought up the subject which had been in his mind since he got the telegram in England from Alistair Prescott.
Spencer asked his father, “Do you have any idea why I was summoned to come home immediately? Prescott did not say much but sounded rather urgent. I was thinking of coming back home soon anyway, so it did not matter much to me, but I am still curious.”
“Well, when your grandfather died, there was a provision on the will for you. The estate is not settled yet and will not be until that provision is taken care of,” his father said.
Spencer looked up questioningly at his father, “What kind of provision?”
“Alistair will tell you about it. He has all the details. All I know is everything is held up until your return.”
“Then I suppose we have to deal with it as soon as possible,” Spencer said matter-of-factly.
“I told Alistair you are coming in today. I invited him to come to dinner tonight so that he can see you tonight.”
“I guess the sooner, the better. I don’t have anything planned to do today except maybe go riding around the estate sometime this afternoon. Which horse can I take?” Spencer asked his father.
“I’ll tell Yates to ask Robert, our new groom to saddle one for you. Sultan might be good for you. He is a bay stallion which we got only a year ago,” his father said.
“Is he temperamental?
“Nothing you can’t handle. Sultan is a great horse. You’ll love him.”
“Thank you, Father.”
“What time do you want to go riding?”
“Right after Mother shows me the garden. Say three o’clock.” Spencer glanced at his mother, who nodded in agreement.
“That would be fine. Consider it done.”
They finished dessert, rose from their seats, and walked toward the door to the terrace. As they walked down the stairs to the garden, the footmen busied themselves clearing up the dining table and getting the dining room ready for dinner later with the Prescotts.