Lilly Prescott, dressed in a pale green evening dress, and Alistair Prescott, dressed in white tie and tails, arrived at Wentworth Hall at around 7 PM. Mr. Yates welcomed them. Alistair Prescott handed Mr. Yates his briefcase, who gave it to Frank, the footman, and told him to take it to the library. Mr. Yates then ushered them to the drawing room, where Margaret Wentworth, dressed in a light yellow evening dress, and George Wentworth and Spencer Wentworth, both in white tie and tails, were already having their cocktails.
Mr. Yates tapped the door lightly, opened it, and announced their guests. Margaret and George put their drinks down and stood up to greet them. Spencer did the same thing. Mr. Yates stood in the background, waiting.
“Hello, Spencer. How are you? Sorry to make you come home so soon,” Alistair said as he shook hands with Spencer.
“No problem. I was thinking of coming back anyway. I’m happy to be home,” Spencer said.
“You look great,” Alistair said.
“How about a drink?” George asked.
“I’ll have vodka martini with a twist,” Alistair said.
“Gin and tonic for me,” Lilly said.
George looked in the direction of Mr. Yates, who nodded and went to the console, took a couple of glasses, and made the drinks.
Alistair and Lilly sat on the sofa across from George and Margaret.
Mr. Yates came back with their drinks on a silver tray and handed them to Alistair and Lilly.
“Thank you, Yates,” Alistair said.
“You’re welcome, sir,” Mr. Yates said. He turned to George and said, “Anything else, sir?”
“No, Yates. That’s fine. Thank you,” George said.
Mr. Yates retreated to the door and quietly left the room.
They clinked glasses, and Alistair asked Spencer about his sojourn abroad. Spencer gladly told them about his adventures, all the countries he visited, and all the people he met. They found his stories fascinating. The conversation continued at dinner, which was served at 7:30 PM. Alistair did not want to bring up the reason for the telegram, which Spencer was dying to hear. Spencer knew it was reserved for later.
After dinner, George Wentworth led Alistair Prescott and Spencer into the library while Margaret Wentworth and Lilly Prescott stayed behind.
The library was a great room but rather stark compared to the other rooms in the house. Spencer looked around the library, seeing it for the first time after his long absence. It looked the same as he remembered it. This was still an impressive room, baronial in stature with its immense high-flung coffered ceiling and grand proportions, its paneled walls of deep mahogany, and its collection of leather-bound editions of literary masterpieces. Books were of the greatest importance to his grandfather, and he collected the best of them. To his grandfather, the best room in the house was the library, where he spent most of his days while at Wentworth Hall. The floor was made of polished oak. Hand-knotted fine Sarouk Persian rugs of vibrant red and ochre on tan background were spread across the polished wood floor. A pair of comfortable Chesterfield sofas, upholstered in leather of ruby-wine color, was positioned next to the enormous marble fireplace with a Carrara marble mantelpiece imported from Italy. Above the mantelpiece was the only picture in the room, a formal oil portrait of Spencer’s grandfather, the senior George Wentworth, done by one of the best portrait artists of the era. Flanking the fireplace were built-in bookshelves from floor to ceiling containing scholarly tomes. The wall on the west side opened up to the enclosed terrace with a hydraulic wall that opened up on three sides. One opened to the south-facing veranda, with a panoramic view of Long Island South Shore, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Another wall led to steps going down to the Italian garden, and the other wall led to the front courtyard. On the far end of the opposite wall, flanking the French door to the terrace, were more built-in bookshelves with more leather-bound editions. On the corner was a big globe about 36 inches high, along with a pair of deep Queen Anne wing chairs of dark wine leather matching the upholstery of the Chesterfield sofas across the room. Facing the Queen Anne wing chairs were the mahogany desk and chair that belonged to George Wentworth Sr. A Palladian window behind his grandfather’s desk shed some light in an otherwise dark room. On the right of his grandfather’s enormous desk stood a refectory table overflowing with newspapers, journals, and magazines. Opposite on the other side was a French marble-topped chest serving as a bar, which held a silver ice bucket and crystal decanters filled with port and brandy, as well as leaded Waterford crystal glasses on a huge silver tray.
Spencer studied his grandfather’s portrait above the finest marble fireplace. The picture was staring at him and seemed to be speaking to him. Spencer could not help thinking about what his grandfather wanted from him. His grandfather, who he always adored, had something in store for him, and he could not wait to hear it from his attorney. His eyes moved around the room and thought the room had a certain degree of masculine dignity compared to the drawing room, where the decoration evoked more feminine graciousness. Like his bedroom, the library reflected man’s tastes. His grandfather could have spent most of his time here in the library when he was home in the summer unless they were entertaining guests. In the wintertime, the family settled in the city at their Fifth Avenue house and enjoyed the social scene in New York.
Alistair Prescott was watching Spencer intently. He just thought what a big responsibility he would be handed tonight. Spencer had no idea what the attorney had to say. His father was vague about it when he arrived this morning, and the attorney did not say much on the telegram either except it was urgent that he comes home.
Spencer joined his father at the bar and took his drink from George. Alistair joined them. George handed Alistair his drink. Then George motioned them towards his desk. Alistair took one of the leather Queen Anne wing chairs, and Spencer took the other one while his father sat on the opposite side of his grandfather’s desk.
“Cheers.” Spencer took the lead and took a sip of his drink. The two older men raised their glasses.
Without preamble, Alistair brought up the subject of the will of George Wentworth Sr. He opened his briefcase and pulled out some papers from it. He cleared his throat, took a glance at George, who nodded and started reading it. Spencer gave him his full attention.
“I, George Wentworth, of Wentworth Hall, Meadow Brook, in Nassau County and State of New York, being of sound mind and body do hereby make, publish and declare this to be my Last Will and Testament, hereby revoking all wills and codicils at any time heretofore made by me.
FIRST: A. I give and bequeath to my son . . .
Alistair paused, and both George and Spencer waited. Alistair looked at the paper, then looked at both George and Spencer. “This is such a long document full of legal terminology, and it will take me all night to read the more than one hundred pages, word for word. It is easier to tell you in simple language what your father,” he looked at George, “and your grandfather,” he turned his gaze to Spencer, “wanted to do with his tremendous business holdings, a large number of properties, and immeasurable wealth.” George and Spencer looked at each other without saying a word and nodded their heads. Alistair turned to Spencer.
“As you know, your grandfather was the chairman of the board of Wentworth Bank, which his father founded in 1875. In addition to that, he invested heavily in public utilities. By the time he died, he had accumulated a fortune estimated at almost $500 million in public utilities, making him one of the wealthiest men in the country.”
“I did not know that,” Spencer said in awe of his grandfather. He looked at his father, who nodded. It never occurred to him that his grandfather was that wealthy. He knew his grandfather was rich but not this rich. He was not really paying much attention to what his grandfather did for a living. All he knew was money was not a problem when he was growing up, and he went to the best private school and then to Harvard. When he went abroad, his stipend was always in the bank, and he spent it the way he wanted to, knowing full well that money would always be there. Now he was stunned at the revelation, the enormous figure of his grandfather’s wealth.
“Let me explain to Spencer how his grandfather got his money.” Alistair looked at George, who nodded. “He knew plenty of rich people, and George invested in their businesses, and some of them became big depositors in his bank,” Alistair Prescott said as if giving a lecture on Business 101. Spencer listened intently. “Your grandfather was a friend to big names in business, like J.P. Morgan, who lives not far from here.”
“That I know,” Spencer said. “He built that large mansion in Glen Cove designed by Christopher Grant LaFarge just before I left for Europe.”
“That’s correct. J.P. Morgan owned J.P. Morgan and Co. and chairman of the board of U. S. Steel Corporation. Your grandfather invested a chunk of money in U.S. Steel, and the company did very well, and your grandfather made a lot of money.”
Spencer smiled and nodded. He picked up his glass and took a swig of his drink.
Alistair continued, “Your father had been appointed the executor of the estate and I as the co-executor. The whole estate was in trust to you except the Fifth Avenue house, which goes to your father, and five million dollars which goes to your sister.”
Spencer opened his mouth but could not speak. He closed it abruptly and stared at Alistair, who continued, “The income from the trust will go to your father during his lifetime, which could amount to about five million dollars a year. Your grandfather gives you an outright ten million dollars in cash, and the rest goes to the trust. All your grandfather’s shares of several utility companies, railroad companies, and U. S. Steel Corp. were transferred into the trust in your name.”
Spencer rolled his eyes, looked up at the ceiling, and could not believe what he was hearing. He kept on shaking his head. The number was staggering, and he could not comprehend it thoroughly.
Alistair continued, “He bequeathed the Meadow Brook house, this house, Wentworth Hall, and its contents together with its 500 surrounding acres to you with the proviso that your parents can have a lifetime privilege to live in the house. Your father will remain President and Chairman of the board of the Wentworth Bank until such time as your father thinks you are ready to take the helm. You have to learn the banking business from the ground up.”
Spencer’s head was spinning. He was not expecting this sudden responsibility entrusted to him. He had lived a carefree existence for the last three years, and suddenly he was thrust into an enormous task. He was speechless after hearing the news. It did not occur to him that he would get the bulk of his grandfather’s estate. He was so sure it would go to his father. Not that his father would go to the poor house, they still could live in both places at Fifth Avenue and Meadow Brook, and five million dollars income a year was not something to sneeze about.
Spencer picked up his drink and emptied his glass. He stood up and paced the floor. George and Alistair watched Spencer in silence. They knew how he must have felt. Spencer went to the bar and poured himself another drink. Then he finally sat back down. He looked solemn.
“I could not believe Grandfather gave me the whole thing. What was he thinking?” He ran his hand through his hair and shook his head.
“Your parents are well provided for. Eventually, you’ll get it anyway, so he decided to do it right now. That way, he knew you would get it.” Alistair looked at George, who nodded in agreement.
“But Father should have them, first,” Spencer argued.
“He does not have to. Your grandfather had a reason,” Alistair blurted out.
“And what was that?” Spencer could not help getting agitated.
“Your father is the president of Wentworth bank, and if something happened to the bank, say it goes bankrupt, he would be liable to the creditors. They can go after his money. This way, they can’t because the bulk of the estate is in trust in your name. It’s solid tight. No creditors can touch it.”
Spencer pondered on the idea. He had to agree with that reasoning. Still, it shocked him to know that he would be so wealthy so soon. It was a little bit scary. His life changed abruptly. He thought he could continue his frolicking life, but now, felt he suddenly should grow up with this wealth and the responsibility attached to it. He quieted down.
When Alistair finished, Spencer emptied his glass, stood up and went to the fireplace, and looked up at his grandfather’s portrait as if asking him, “Why? Why are you doing this to me?” Alistair and George waited patiently. They knew it must have been a complete shock for Spencer to hear all this. Obviously, he was not expecting this at all.
Spencer put his head on the mantelpiece. He was thinking hard and fast. Silence prevailed in the room. After a few minutes, he walked back to his chair. He decided to do something. Something unheard of. It was the only way he could think of. They might disagree with him, but it was the only way he knew how to tackle his present predicament. If it was inevitable, he had to act quickly and now.
“All right. When do I start working at the bank? I want to learn everything I can about the banking industry, which I know nothing about,” he said with conviction, looking at his father.
“Next week is soon enough. I’ll have your office ready,” George said.
Spencer knitted his eyebrows and shook his head. It was not what he wanted to do. He had other ideas which his father might disagree with, but he had to do it his way. Spencer said, “No, I don’t want an office.”
“You don’t? Why? I don’t understand,” George said and looked at Alistair, who was also puzzled.
Alistair said, “I don’t get it. Don’t you want an office? What do you exactly mean by that? Where will you be working?”
“I want to start as a teller.” Both George and Alistair’s jaws dropped. They stared at him. Now it was them who were in shock. They were in total disbelief.
Finally, George said, “Are you kidding?”
“No, I’m serious.”
“Are you sure you want to do that?” George wanted to make certain that was what Spencer really wanted to do. He could not believe what he was hearing.
“Grandfather was right. I have to learn from the bottom up. That is the only way I will know how the bank works. Then I can move to be a loan officer in a couple of months. Eventually, I want to work at the finance department and learn how things work in that end,” Spencer said with conviction.
George looked at Alistair, “What do you think of Spencer’s idea?”
Alistair shook his head. He took a drink from his glass. After a brief moment, he said, “If he is comfortable with that, let it be. We’ll give it a try.”
“I meant what I said. I’ll start as a teller,” Spencer insisted. It was the only way he knew to learn the banking industry since he had no clue about what banking was all about. All he knew was money went into his bank account, and he spent it like water.
George thought about it and finally considered it a brilliant idea worth trying. What could possibly go wrong? If it does not work and he does not want it, he can always go to the executive office.
George agreed and said, “OK. It’s settled then. You’ll start Monday, and I will take you to meet Tom Cartwright, the manager at the Fifth Avenue branch.”
Alistair said, “Great. One more thing. Your grandfather did something, which was smart. He liquidated half of his holdings at some companies, and the cash is now sitting at your bank. He thought it better to diversify and have some cash.”
“How much cash are we talking about?” Spencer asked.
“Ask your father. Several million dollars, I believe.” Alistair glanced at George.
‘Whew! Why would he do that?” Spencer was curious to know.
“He thought cash was better than a piece of a stock certificate. He was probably right with the way the stock market is acting now.”
“Hope he was right.” Spencer was beginning to wonder about the logic of this move.
“With your grandfather, I would not doubt it,” Alistair said.
Alistair looked at his watch. “I think it’s getting late. I better take Lilly home. The ladies must have run out of things to talk about.”
“I would not worry about that. Ladies have plenty to talk about all the time,” George said.
“I guess so.” Alistair paused. “Now that we have settled everything, I’ll start working on the probate.” He gathered all his papers, and they all went to the drawing room and fetched the ladies.
Mr. Yates brought Lilly Prescott’s silk wrap, handed it to Alistair Prescott, who put it around his wife’s shoulder. Then George, Margaret, and Spencer said good night to Alistair and Lilly.
As soon as Alistair and Lilly left, Spencer excused himself. “Goodnight. I think I’m going to bed. It was a trying day.”
Margaret noticed her son’s sudden need to be alone. “Is everything all right?” She looked at her husband, whose expression did not reveal anything.
“Yes, Mother. Everything is fine. I’m just tired from my trip.”
“Goodnight, dear. See you in the morning,” she said.
“Goodnight, son,” his father said.
Spencer gave his mother a quick peck on the cheek and hurried going up the staircase.
George took Margaret’s arm and guided her to the parlor. “Poor Spencer,” he muttered softly. Margaret gave him a questioning glance.
Spencer entered his room. It was dark except for the soft glow from the full moon outside. He did not bother to turn on the light. He went straight towards the window. He opened it and let the cold air in. He breathed in the fresh air. He looked up at the sky. The moon was a bright orb in the sky, casting a dance of shadows over the surrounding landscape. Millions of stars were twinkling above. He looked at the vast landscape. He suddenly thought of the tremendous responsibility that now lies on his shoulder. This land was now his, and as a steward of this land, he had to make sure it stays within the family for future generations. It’s his legacy, and he promised to work hard to make do his promise.
He looked up at the sky and said, “Grandfather, if you are looking down on me, I want you to help me. I’ll do my best of what you expect of me. I promise you that.”