The Withdrawing Room
The Withdrawing Room
"DAMN IT, SARAH, YOU can't do a thing like that! What will the family say?" Cousin Dolph's jowls quivered with empurpled outrage. Dolph went in rather heavily for outrage.
"Who cares what the family says?" Uncle Jem yelled back. Jeremy Kelling was not more than five years older than his nephew Adolphus, but relationships among the vast Kelling clan came in all sizes and assortments. "I've never listened to any of them, and I've lived a hell of a lot more satisfying life than the pack of you put together."
"Bah! You talk a lot, but you never did anything. If I had five cents for every woman you've-" Dolph recollected that he was in the presence of Sarah, whom he still thought of as a puling infant notwithstanding the fact that she'd been married and widowed. "Anyway, I wouldn't be a dime richer than I am now."
"The devil you wouldn't. If you're so flaming rich, why don't you stump up for Sarah's mortgage?"
Adolphus Kelling waxed even purpler. "What are you preaching to me for? Why don't you?"
"Because I didn't come in for old Fred's wad as you're about to. And I've rioted away my substance as fast as it came in on wine and wassail, as a sensible man should. And I've dipped into capital, too, and you needn't start yelling again because I don't give a damn. At least I wouldn't give a damn if it weren't for this outrageous mess over the mortgages. Sarah knows I'd give her the money like a shot if I had it."
Sarah Kelling Kelling, though many years younger and a great deal smaller than either of the combatants, managed to raise her voice above the tumult. "Shut up, both of you! I don't want anybody to give me the money. This is my mess, not yours. I-I'm only grateful Alexander didn't live to find out what was going on."
This was a lie, and Sarah's voice was none too steady by the time she'd finished uttering it. Alexander would in truth have been devastated to learn that his young wife, whom he'd thought he was leaving amply provided for, might wind up without so much as a roof over her head. Yet to have lost him so suddenly and so dreadfully was a shock she still hadn't got over and probably never would.
In a way, Sarah could not herself understand why she was trying to make Dolph and Uncle Jem listen to this idea of hers. It would be far easier to chuck the whole business, let the bank foreclose, and be shut of both the tall Tulip Street townhouse on Beacon Hill and the far too large summer estate at Ireson's Landing, about twenty miles north of Boston. Then there wouldn't be the agony of waking up every morning and finding herself in the house alone.
She wouldn't be a pauper in any case. Sarah still had her own small income from the trust her father had set up. She'd soon reach her twenty-seventh birthday and be able to take charge of the principal which had escaped the looting of the Kelling estate, although her father himself had not. But to give up so easily, to haul in her horns and slink off without a fight seemed too much like a betrayal of the long, lonely battle Alexander had waged to save something for her.
So she'd thought the matter over, weighed the fors and againsts, and come up with what she'd honestly believed a sober, dignified, reasonable solution to her immediate problem. She might have known that no matter what she proposed, she'd be precipitating a full-scale family fracas.
"You've got no more knowledge of finance than a goddamn tomcat," Dolph was informing Jem, neither of them having paid any attention whatever to Sarah. "You ought to know I shan't be able to touch a penny of Uncle Fred's money for at least a year, and then there are all those charitable bequests to be taken care of. By the time I've paid the inheritance taxes and forked over endowments for fifty-seven different foundations and whatnot, I expect to be a damn sight poorer than I am now."
He winced at his own words. The thought o